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Friday, 14 October 2011

Museum Mile: Philadelphia's Parkway Museums

Philadelphia's Parkway Muses 
By Jackie Atkins
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service] 
Museum Mile: Philadelphia's Parkway Museums
By Richard Carreno
WritersClearinghousePress
180 pp $19.99
ISBN: 978-1-105-14489-9 

AT a glance, it's simply a beautiful Philadelphia reproduction of the Champs-Elysée. But for Richard Carreño, it's 'Museum Mile,' the core of Philadelphia's museums and galleries on the city's famed Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
In Museum Mile: Philadelphia's Parkway Museums, Carreño looks deep into this street-scape for its architectural and artistic resources, embodied in the Parkway's venerable public arts and cultural spaces. In all, he canvasses more than a dozen of the city's arts institutions. Sometimes he strays in the name of local insights -– as far afield even as Jerusalem and Nice, France.
The book gets much closer to home with Carreño's sharp and reflective appraisal of changes at the Barnes Foundation museum. Significantly, Museum Mile coincides with the debut in 2012 of the 'new' Barnes, now the on the Parkway's newest cultural jewel.
Not much has escaped the author as he examines and deconstructs paintings with the fervor of an explorer and teacher. The artists whose compositions he describes come under as equal scrutiny as their works themselves. Similarly, administrative and curatorial staff members, and even some of Philadelphia's most prominent arts donors and financiers, never go unchallenged.
Carreño looks 'behind' the canvass. Before addressing the hidden techniques of the sporting art of Alfred J. Munnings, Carreño carefully scrutinizes this English country artist's background to explain the influence of Munnings' life experiences in his portrayals of uncommon horses and their equally uncommon riders.
Carreño introduces Michael Taylor, until recently modern art curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as 'part scholar, part art historian, and part sleuth.' He describes his pioneering shows, and how Taylor singularly captures the importance, need, and workmanship of a museum curator.
Small tidbits make reading Museum Mile informative, substantive, and enlightening.
Not contented with just profiles of artists and the museums that showcase their work, Carreño spins tales of Philadelphia politics and intrigues as they relate the Museum Mile's art world. Neither the controversial founder of the Barnes Foundation, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, nor the film, The Art of the Steal, a screed against the Barnes' move from Merion in suburban Philadelphia to the Parkway, escape Carreño's critique.
Such seemingly mundane issues as the advisability of backpack captivity by the staff at the National Museum of American Jewish History and, more important, often draconian security measures at the Philadelphia Museum of Art get special attention from the author.
Even those familiar with Philadelphia's artistic treasures will come away, after reading the almost forty essays in Museum Mile, with previously unknown insights and, yes, some juicy morsels. From the grandness of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to the historical roots of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, to the sheer wonder of the Barnes Foundation museum, Richard Carreño informs and edifies the reader in a knowledgeable work.
(Jackie Atkins, a short story and screenplay writer, lives in Cape May, New Jersey).

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