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Preview: The Barnes Foundation


Home to masterworks by Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, and others, the Barnes Foundation is one of the most important collections of Post-Impressionist and early Modernist art in the world. Now, as the Barnes prepares for a high-profile move from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, to a new location in downtown Philadelphia, the museum has announced a comprehensive new identity program designed by Pentagram’s Abbott Miller. The graphic identity has been introduced with the launch of a new website designed by Miller and his team for the Foundation, which had its Phase 1 launch last week. The museum opens to the public in May 2012.

Established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a visionary who amassed paintings, decorative art, and African sculpture (before it was widely collected by other institutions), the Barnes Foundation has been housed since 1922 in a custom gallery in Merion designed to Barnes’ specifications. The galleries of the original building were intimate settings that presented art and objects from various parts of the world in distinctive symmetrical “ensembles,” a hanging style that allowed viewers to make links and associations among the diverse works. These arrangements will be recreated in exact detail in the Barnes’ new building, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and have inspired Miller’s identity for the museum.


To develop the identity Miller conducted extensive research of the Barnes estate and the original building at Merion. The identity’s form was suggested by a sketch by Barnes of one of his signature arrangements, a symmetrical row of paintings. Miller recognized the layout as “the DNA of Dr. Barnes’ vision,” a motif that captures the museum’s unique environment and Barnes’ singular view of art. The logo consists of a row of rectangles that recall the centered, axial hanging at the Barnes, each form containing a letter of the museum’s name. The letters play with positive and negative space, referencing the Barnes’ intention to read across works and make connections.



The move of the Barnes from Merion to Philadelphia has been controversial and the foundation is taking great care that the presentation of the art in the new space follows Dr. Barnes’ intentions. The new identity helps insure that the museum maintains Barnes’ indelible stamp, bridging the collection’s installation at Merion and at its new home. The modern orange color of the identity was suggested by Matisse’s Joy of Life, one of the most iconic works in the collection. The font used in the signature, and in the wider graphic program, is Milo, designed by Mike Abbink. The type within the ensemble is Monitor.

Miller and his team are working closely with the Foundation on the presentation of the collection in its new home. In addition to creating the identity, the designers are developing a program of environmental graphics and interpretative displays and materials for the institution that are consistent with Barnes’ vision of making art accessible and engaging. These include projections in the galleries and signage integrated with the architecture. The interior graphics incorporate quotations from Barnes, and the handwritten sketch that inspired the new logo will be engraved into a garden wall of the new building. The museum is scheduled to open to the public on May 19, 2012.





Additional coverage: Print Magazine

Project Team: Abbott Miller, partner-in-charge and designer; Kristen Spilman, designer.