Wednesday, August 18, 2010


i was in tenth grade when i first developed my sincere love affair with art. i have my art teacher ms. root to thank for that. she wasn't just my teacher, she was a dear friend.
when i was little i was always drawing, and making things with whatever i could find. never really thought about art since i was just a kid living in manila and manila isn't really a cultural arts center of the world. but i was always amazed by painted pictures. i didn't really connect anything important with it, i just knew i liked it. that all changed when i was sixteen living in toronto and i saw the barnes collection at the AGO.
dr. albert barnes was notorious for shielding his collection from the rapidly growing art market. he didn't believe art was a commodity or an investment to be considered for its profitability in the future. its real value was never how much it was worth, but how much it means. as a result he built his own foundation which housed some of the most important works of early modern art and started a school to teach students the real value of art.
according to his will, his collection was never to leave its home in merion, about four miles away from philadelphia. the collection should also never be reproduced for he believed that it stole the integrity of the work and that the barnes foundation was first and foremost a school and not a museum. not a tourist attraction.
dr. barnes passed away in 1951, and over the years his beloved building which housed his collection fell into disrepair. lacking the money to fund the much needed renovation, the trustees made the controversial choice to tour the collection around the world and allow the works to be printed to add more revenue to feed the work in the building.
toronto was one of the only six cities where the tour was to stop. so obviously my much beloved eccentric art teacher was all a buzz with excitement. for a good month all we did was study the collection. it was during those lessons that i got to know renoir, monet, matisse, soutine, and modigliani among countless others. i understood how these pictures, pretty by today's standards, were so revolting back then. how the courage and talents of all these artists changed art and inadvertently, changed how we see everything else.
when the day finally arrived for our day long field trip we waited with the thousands of others in line. you were only allowed an hour to view the collection, and with so much to look at, we were all planning our course of action. that however was a failed attempt. the minute we walked in we were greeted by renoir's la-sortie du conservatoire and to see something you've been studying in books for a month in person, it literally stops you in your tracks. i can still remember going from one room to the next. the first time i stared at gauguin's monsieur lou lou. i just stood there, wondering what ever happened to that little boy. and at the very end to see matisse's joy of life, not to sound corny, i kinda had to hold the tears back.
i grew up a lot that day. my eyes were never the same again. till now, i compare every exhibit i go to with that day. i look for the same feelings, i look for the same sense of awe. i look for my younger self. the one un-tinted by the biases that comes with age.
a few weeks ago i watched this documentary called "the art of the steal". its about the barnes foundation. in the winter of 2011, against the wishes and will of dr. barnes, the entire collection (which has been recently valued at a staggering 23 billion dollars) is to be ripped off its home in merion and moved to a new museum in the heart of philadephia under the premise that with the new gallery the collection will be admired by millions more people (and obviously bring revenue and attention to the city that ridiculed dr. barnes and his collection when he was alive). unfortunately, for ninety percent of those people who will walk through the doors of the new museum, it will just be another destination to check off their tourist map. they'll never feel the way my sixteen year self old felt.

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