At the Barnes Foundation, a Spiritual Convergence of Stone Sculpture and Dance

Robert Sullivan, Vogue, July 28, 2023

Museums are quiet, contemplative spaces, like cabinet drawers—divorced from the messy world, or at least that’s what, thanks to colonialism and its related market forces, many of us have been trained to believe. We go to museums to stand apart from art, and the “we” who go, are the “we” who get to, who feel comfortable being there, moving as if choreographed. This summer, twice every Saturday until September 2, the Barnes Foundation, in downtown Philadelphia, is staging a dance in a gallery space, in an attempt to re-choreograph the idea of a museum. 


The setting is an exhibit of sculptures made by William Edmondson. An early 20th-century Black sculptor, Edmondson’s work, in the late 1930s, was described then, even by the Museum of Modern Art when it exhibited him, as art that didn’t necessarily belong behind their velvet ropes. (“He has had no art training,” MOMA’s 1937 press release said, “and very little education, and has probably never seen a piece of sculpture except his own.”) The Barnes show argues that, in part because it referred to matters of the spirit, and specifically spirit in Black communities, it was life-altering work that was billed as accidentally important.


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