Exhibition Catalogue: "The Order of Things"

The Order of Things presents three large-scale installations by internationally renowned artists Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, and Fred Wilson.  Each of these works, commissioned for the show, is a response to the unconventional way that Dr. Albert C. Barnes chose to display his collection.  The exhibition also features an installation designed by Barnes - a small room in the Merion gallery building that was replaced by an elevator shaft in the 1990s.

Barnes ignored the traditional rules of museum display, mixing modern paintings and old masters, furniture, metalwork, and household items.  Formal concerns, rather than history or chronology, guided the organization of his collection.  In overturning traditional categories of display, Barnes invented his own system for ordering the world.  Much like an installation artist, he invited a different view of objects by shifting their context.

Each of the invited artists responds to Barnes's ensembles in a way that is both thoughtful and provocative.  Mark Dion arranges the tools of a naturalist according to Barnes principles; he considers the destructive nature of collecting, or what happens when an object is removed from the world and put into a collector's personal microcosm.  Judy Pfaff melds the structure of Dr. Barnes's installations with the natural order and flow of Mrs. Barnes's arboretum.  Fred Wilson presents a series of "readymade ensembles" and a set of ensembles of his own design using rarely seen objects from Barnes storage.

The Order of Things explains the philosophy behind the ensembles and their importance in the history of museum practice.  At the same time - and in keeping with Barnes's commitment to the development of critical thinking skills - the show invites thought about display in general.  How are other museums organized?  What meanings do their displays create?  Are value systems and hierarchies implied in any presentation?

Paperback, 42 pages. Cover measures 9.5 x 7.25 inches.

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