Campus Philly is an organization that partners with businesses and other organizations around the greater Philadelphia area to help local college students fully utilize the amazing area they live in. Part of this greater ongoing effort, Campus Philly hosts “College Nights” at different venues to provide a free look at the art and culture that the city has to offer. Recently, they hosted a party at the Barnes Foundation, in Center City Philly, which stylized itself as a “college party,” We decided to see what kind of a party the Barnes Foundation could throw.
Shortly after our arrival, a man in a large straw hat with a thin red beard sat down at a table, grabbed five people, and commanded them to “empty their minds, and draw.” These five strangers then attempted to paint a portrait in sharpie of the person across them, all while sitting through a barrage of life advice and the strangest biography one could reasonably expect to hear at a “college party.” It took us about 15 minutes to realize that he was actually a Vincent Van Gogh impersonator. This was how the night began. The Barnes Foundation is home to the Barnes Collection, which is the single largest collection of paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, in addition to numerous others by Picasso, Matisse, and the real Van Gogh. Barnes tirelessly collected these works during the 1920s-1950s, and carefully arranged them into their current arrangement in the collection.
The collection is strangely arranged at first glance; the rooms are filled to the brim with impressionist paintings, Chinese and Native American paintings, Cubist statuary, 500-year-old kitchen equipment and overzealous security guards. In one room will hang five Cezanne’s, two Matisse’s, a Van Gogh, a Picasso, a painting by an unknown Chinese artist from the 16th Century, and a pair of scissors made in Spain. One room is filled entirely with unfinished sketches by Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Some of these are their own works of art, and some look like a throwaway sketch of a boy/dwarf that Picasso spilled coffee on after three minutes of work and tried to toss. The collection doesn’t just hold impressionist art however; William Glackens, an American painter (who helped Barnes gather many of the paintings in the collection), has his paintings and illustrations hung up right next to Picasso. The collection only has about 20 rooms, and it took us about half an hour to get around. As soon as we went out of the collection back into the foyer, we realized that the interpretive dance had started without us.
The crowd at the “college party” was fairly mixed in age, as around half of the attendees were college-aged. It was easy to tell who was who, as the college kids had a different color tag from everyone else (or everyone else had a different color tag from us. Hard to say.). Thankfully there wasn’t much time to mingle, as there was far too much interpretive dance to watch. I’ve never been one to appreciate interpretive/any dancing, but the energy of the live band was infectious. The first dance took place between a man and a woman. They swirled around each other as the music swelled in and out. As far as I could tell, it was an allegory for either marriage, debate, or the current state of American college tuition. As the music reached its final climax, the woman flung herself to the ground. The man bowed down on his knees as the music faded. We scarce had time to absorb what happened before the man rose, grabbed the mic, and thanked the Barnes Foundation for having him out. He told us he had a great show for us, and the band leapt into the next song. The woman barely shifted from her prone position, only moving to put her hands behind her head, and to tap her feet to the rhythm of the R&B singer from Instagram. Now that I think about it, I’m settling on college tuition. Pretty soon, there was an interpretive dance mosh pit developing, and we decided it would be best to leave before things got too crazy. It was 8 p.m. on a school night, after all, and we didn’t want to stay out too late at a college party that didn’t offer free food.