HughE Dillon: Barnes Opening Gala

VIP guest list included Governor Corbett, Mayor Nutter, Brian Williams, Ed Rendell, Hamiltons, Kimmels and more.

The Barnes Foundation opened with a grand gala on Friday night. (I title this photo: WOW, wow, wow.) The new jewel of Philadelphia’s museum collection made its official debut at 6:30 p.m., after many years of anticipation and heated debate on its move from Merion to Philadelphia’s Champs Elysees. Attended by nearly 900 at an eye-popping ticket price of $5,000, the philanthropic guests enjoyed the first look at the new home for Albert Barnes’s art collection. Under a large tent, in the shadow of the building, they dined on a three-course meal by Aramark’s catering arm (1st and Fresh) and enjoyed a program with emcee Brian Williams. The funds raised at the opening galas (there was another one Saturday night after Friday sold out in record time; Saturday’s ticket price $1,500/guest) go directly to the endowment for the preservation of artwork and education programs. Gala co-chairs were Aileen K. Roberts, Barnes Foundation trustee, Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, James E. Rohr, chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, and Sharon C. Rohr.

Below: Even with all the pomp and circumstance, the main attraction of the night was housed in the $150 million U.S. modernist art palace: the art, a collection of 800 impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in 27 galleries. The 12,000-square-foot art building, which sits within a larger L-shaped structure, has art hanging for viewing as directed by Barnes suggested. During the cocktail party, guests marveled at the art, or mingled in the adjoining lobby, which is where I spent most of my time.

Below: My heart be still: One of the first people I saw was the New York Times‘s legendary “street photographer” Bill Cunningham. Cunningham photographs people and the passing scene of Manhattan every day. He has a keen sense of what is relevant, desirable and does his job with the most admirable modesty. And here he is photographing the opening gala of the Barnes Foundation; that says a lot.

Below: The opening gala was one of those events that will go down in societal history, an event that only happens once in a generation. I was excited to be there to capture it. There was a lot of excitement in the air, not only because of the triumph in moving the Barnes to the Parkway, but because of the impressive list of people who turned out, including Governor Tom Corbett and the First Lady of Pennsylvania Susan Corbett (right), as well as co-chairman of Dilworth Paxson Stephen Harmelin, who’s a Barnes trustee and its treasurer, and Julia Harmelin (left), and Joseph Neubauer, chairman of the board of Aramark and the Barnes Foundation vice-chairman, with wife Jeanette Neubauer (center).

Below: Alan Reed, Louise Reed, Pennsylvania Ballet chair emeritus, Anne Hamilton, who serves on the boards of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Academy of Music, Please Touch Museum and is the creator of the Newport Antiques Show, and Gary Fisher.

Below: Caroline and Sidney Kimmel. Sidney Kimmel was born in Philadelphia, and now lives in California, but has been tremendously philanthropic to his hometown. His funding focus has been on health care, education, and arts and culture—including one of my favorite cultural institutes, the center for the performing arts now called the Kimmel Center, on the Avenue of the Arts. His goal has been to donate $1 billion in total throughout his lifetime.

Below: Gerald Sheff and Shawitha Kachan traveled down from Toronto to see the new home of the Barnes Collection. Sheff’s company Gluskin Sheff was the sponsor of the “Toronto Barnes Exhibition” in the early ’90s, when the Merion mansion underwent a restoration and was closed to visitors. Also pictured: Laurada Byers and Michael Sanyour. I was admiring Mrs. Byers’s dress, and she told me she designed it. She saw the material and had it made. It’s beautiful.

Below: John and Christina Saler, with Denis O’Brien, CEO of Exelon.

Below: Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Rep. Dwight Evans, and Constance E. Clayton, former superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. Clayton said the museum was extraordinary, a wonderful addition to Philadelphia, a treasure. When asked of her plans to run for mayor, Councilwoman Brown said there was much work to do before she even thought of putting together a campaign.

Below: Barbara Guggenheim, Marguerite B. Lenfest, Elaine Levitt and Joanne Berwind. I also spotted recent “Donors Are Heroes” recipients Joan and Bernie Spain, Emilio Gravago and Carole Haas Gravagno, Laura and Ken Trujillo, Dorrance Hamilton, Eliana Papadakis sitting with her daughter’s future in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Larry Kent, Derek Gillman, executive director and president of the Barnes, Paul Matisse, the grandson of painter Henri Matisse and his wife, Dennis Alter, Bridgette Mayer, Rita Rome, Charisse Lillie, Senator Arlen Specter and wife Joan Specter, Thomas McGill, Terry Brucker, Danielle and Todd Drake, Joe Weiss and Sharon Pinkenson, Linda and Greg Osberg, Ronna and Bob Hall, Hope Cohen and Richard Green, Annette Friedland, Anka Palitz, and Judee and Bennett Weinstock.

Below: Former Governor Ed Rendell signs a get-well card for Ralph J. Roberts, founder of Comcast, who was under the weather and unable to make the event, as Midge Rendell conveys her well wishes to Suzanne Roberts. Rendell brokered a settlement in 2005 of the contentious dispute between the Barnes Foundation and Lincoln University, which helped the museum move go forward.

Below: Former Mayor Wilson Goode, Thelma Goode and Bernard Watson Jr.

Below: Mayor Michael Nutter and First Lady of Philadelphia Lisa Nutter make their way into dinner.

Below: Lynn Spivak and Ed Snider.

Below: Patrick Caldwell and Pew Charitable Trusts president and CEO Rebecca Rimel. Pew, along with other donors, helped to raise $150 million to build the new Barnes Foundation facility, relocate the collection and establish an endowment to ensure the Foundation’s future security.

Below: The dinner was housed in what will be the garden with a lovely fountain. Everything was almost in place when the planners decided to move the tent from the back parking lot to the front along the Parkway. They had to remove the newly planted trees, which are waiting patiently at the nursery to return. The event was produced by two of Philadelphia top event planners: Fred Stein, from the Creative Group, and Karen Homer, president and CEO at HKH Innovations. Brian Kappra, Evantine Design, used his master skills on the production, decor and table settings.

Below: NBC Nightly News anchorman Brian Williams was the master of ceremonies for the evening, and proved to be very comedic and entertaining, as he reviewed the history of the Barnes Collection, the life of Albert Barnes, a Philadelphia butcher’s son-turned-pharmaceutical baron, and Barnes’s desire that his art be accessible to people, as well as his desire to help underserved students. Here at the new location, the collection will be more accessible allowing an estimated 250,000 visitors to see the art during its first year in Philadelphia, roughly four times more than in its hallowed former home. (Note: Currently the tickets are sold out until the fall, so book your visit now.)

Below: Singer Norah Jones was the featured entertainment. She sang a few of her classics to the delight of the crowd, and new songs from her new one, Little Broken Hearts. Other entertainment included the Avalon Jazz Band and a church revival finale with the Enon Tabernacle Mass Choir, in recognition of the fact that Barnes’s mother used to take him to African-American revivals as a young boy.

Below: New York-based architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, and Philadelphia-based landscape architect Laurie Olin are the minds behind the new Barnes building and gardens. Tsien told me their goal was to replicate the placement of the art as it had hung in Merion, but to also create an exciting environment to view the paintings with more natural light. The building is a “building within a building,” surrounded by lovely gardens inspired by the Merion campus’s arboretum. Why is the entrance located on 20th Street and not on the Parkway? It was a well-considered decision; they wanted to create a “pilgrimage” to see the art, where guests would walk through a beautiful garden and then through the gates into more of a meditation garden before they encountered the dramatic artwork that is the Barnes Collection. It just didn’t work for them to put the entrance fronting the Parkway. I like it: The front of the Barnes is a beautiful work of art, and I enjoy the playful positions of the windows, and the trees.

Below: Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and Senator Vincent Hughes. Ralph just published her autobiography, Redefining Diva: Life Lessons From the Original Dreamgirl, and has a few juicy stories to tell from her run-ins with Diana Ross and being the “mother” of Brandy on the popular show Moesha. She hopes to do a special book signing here in Philly, where her husband represents the 7th District in the Pennsylvania State Senate. It’s always wonderful to see this lovely couple.

Below: What a whirlwind of a night! As the night wore down, I realized I didn’t even get to check out the classrooms, the gift store, the library, and many of the other features (like the art) that make the Barnes campus a new and exciting draw on the Parkway.