Ensemble Modernism: Orchestrating Art and People at the Barnes Foundation


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Department of Art History


This dissertation analyzes how Philadelphia art collector Albert Barnes (1872-1951) created his own vision of American modernism by gathering both people—African Americans, the working class, and women—and objects in unexpected formations at his art and education Foundation. Barnes hung the walls of his galleries with “ensembles:” compositions that brought works from different periods and locations into dialogue according to “plastic” qualities such as color, light, texture, and line. The ensembles structured surprising relations between objects: for example, the common textures in a Picasso painted figure and a Kota reliquary sculpture, or the rhyme between the curve of the neck in a Modigliani portrait and a nineteenth-century American ladle. Although his galleries are often considered merely strange or quirky, this dissertation demonstrates that the way that Barnes understood and displayed objects offers a potentially socially transformative, alternative model for modernism and its particular meaning in the United States.