The Barnes Collection, Philadelphia

The Last Laugh: An Essay by David Zermeno

I will never forget the first time I stepped foot into the main gallery of the Barnes Museum (shown above).  I could not believe my eyes! I was filled with awe seeing such great works of Picasso and Matisse.  I was shocked to see Cézanne's original masterpiece of the "card players" in Barnes' private collection.  As an American in Paris artist, I have always considered Le Grand Cézanne the great grandfather of modern artists, especially Picasso and Matisse.  That's why Cézanne is the idol of so many artists like myself who have lived in Paris. Despite not being fully appreciated during his lifetime by the art world, it's no wonder Barnes spent much of his life finding so much joy and kinship within the halls of his private collection.  Needless to say, the art world is not a kind place! During a time of conservatism, I suppose that's why the Barnes collected so many great paintings from such great and provocative artists. I admire too many of these artists to mention in this essay: Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Soutine, Rousseau, Modigliani, Degas, De Chirico, and even the great Van Gogh.   


Ironically, it's the artist curse of the art world that even the great Van Gogh, who the world now holds as a benchmark of a truly great artist, also spent his entire life never being fully appreciated.  In this respect, Dr. Barnes and Van Gogh had much in common.  Fortunately, time has a way of settling the scores for those like Dr. Barnes who have been genuinely committed to appreciating under-appreciated artists.  I'm sure that's also why Van Gogh is now among the artists in his astounding art collection. That's why it's now only just and fair that museums must compete for the opportunity to pay many millions for a single Van Gogh to include in their own private collections.  I just can't help smiling at the irony knowing that millions are now being made selling Van Gogh coffee mugs everywhere, even though no one would have done so much as bought Van Gogh a cup of coffee to show how much they appreciated him as an inspirational artist while he was alive!


On the other hand, now in gift shops everywhere and especially in the auction houses, at least Van Gogh is finally getting the last laugh. As an artist, I've learned a lot from the art world... In terms of recognition and commercial success, even I must admit the sad truth of the old saying I've heard uttered too often in private from the lips of wealthy art collectors in the art world: "The best artist is a dead artist".  That's why I can especially relate to both Dr. Barnes and Van Gogh.  In fact, being treated like a commodity was also one the main reasons I refused to sell the paintings from my American in Paris collection.  So, early on, I was determined not to succumb to this same fate.  Like Dr. Barnes, that's why I was first inspired to use my collection to make an artistic contribution in my own unique way.  Even though my early works always went for high prices, I decided I was not going to be a starving artist... Being a successful artist is extremely hard work!!!  That's why artists have a right to stand up for ourselves and profit from our own commercial success.  Besides, why let the art world take advantage of what has become the commercialization of us everywhere after we are no longer alive?  Fortunately, Dr. Barnes was a good and loyal steward of the artists in his collection.  


So I was filled with joy seeing Van Gogh being celebrated as Barnes' personal gift for the public instead of the property of the sharks of the art world treating us likes stocks and bonds in the stock market.  I especially loved that the Barnes collection included Van Gogh along with so many artists who, like myself, were inspired by living in Paris.  What I found most impressive about Dr. Barnes and his collection, however, was how Dr. Barnes' entire collection had been exhibited in his home that he had converted into his own private museum.  In fact, even as an art collector, I was so inspired that I remember thinking to myself: 


 "My God!  What kind of art collector has the audacity to convert his own home into a private museum so that he could gift his entire collection to the world?"


Years later, asking myself that very question is what inspired me to create Zermeno Museum.  Dr. Barnes was not your typical collector...  So it's no wonder that during his lifetime he endured so much criticism from the art world.  Despite not "playing by the rules", Dr. Barnes had a clear vision.  As an art collector and artist I could immediately relate...  Even as I write this essay about him, I can't help smiling to myself with a mischievous grin on my face thinking of him as a kindred spirit who spent his life thumbing his nose at the art establishment.  Dr. Barnes was an enigma who enjoyed being a thorn to his foes.  Having spent my life committed to the arts, I can completely relate to and admire his vision.  What I admire most about Dr. Barnes is how he believed in himself, even when others ridiculed him and refused to take him seriously.  Those in the art world went as far as accusing Dr. Barnes as derelict for collecting the works of Expressionists, the Fauves, and Avant-garde artists who were inspired by the city of Paris. Fortunately the justice of time has now fully turned the tables against the harsh cruelty of all Barnes' accusers.  So I admire Dr. Barnes for standing his ground against those in the art world and letting the justice of time give him the last laugh!  Dr. Barnes knew he had a higher purpose and didn't care what others thought of him.  No one can deny that that's also why Barnes Museum is now one of America's greatest artistic treasures and the envy of the art world.


Dr. Barnes will always be an inspiration to me personally.  He also supported the disadvantaged the disadvantaged "little guy" when it wasn't popular to do so...  He was a committed champion of the poor and underprivileged, including hiring and treating African Americans with respect, long before the "Black Lives Matter" movement even existed...  He also was a strong supporter of artists, a funder, and strong advocate for arts education.  Today when we all give lip service to the ME TOO movement, Dr. Barnes was a true champion of the disadvantaged before it was popular do the right thing.  So yes, that's why Zermeno Museum would not exist without his leading the way for an art collector and artist like myself to know that I could also create my own art collection to leave as my personal gift for the public.  Thanks to Dr. Barnes paving the way for people like me, I was inspired to buy a mansion and also create a unique artist museum from my own home, albeit it with my small art collection of  French paintings inspired from living in Paris. Thanks to this trailblazing art collector that came before me, Zermeno Museum is now a sanctuary for art and inspiration. 


Dr. Barnes showed me the way a passionate art collector can inspire the world, even in my own small way...  That's why I now wholeheartedly support the Barnes as a museum member.  It's the least I can do because I am indebted to Dr. Barnes for being such a trailblazer and paving the way for me, as an American in Paris artist, art collector, and director of Zermeno Museum. 


Thanks to Dr. Barnes, Zermeno Museum is now inspiring art lovers like you from around the globe!

Enjoy the show!


David Zermeno

Director, Artist, & Collector