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Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes honored in 25th anniversary Katonah Museum of Art exhibition
Katonah Museum of Art exterior today. Photo: Margaret Fox.

KATONAH, NY.- The Katonah Museum of Art celebrates the silver anniversary of its landmark building by Edward Larrabee Barnes (April 22, 1915 – September 22, 2004) with an exhibition exploring the work of this legendary architect in Westchester, where Barnes resided. Though internationally renowned for ambitious modernist museum structures, The Katonah Museum project was unique in design— an intimate, light-filled space surrounded by the natural beauty of this idyllic hamlet located just 45 minutes from New York City. Unlike many large projects Barnes had undertaken, this one was as much a form of personal expression as architectural design, with the informal feel of a domestic space for art.

The story of Barnes’ relationship to the Katonah Museum of Art crosses the worlds of business, art, and family life. Barnes raised his family in nearby Mt. Kisco, and designed the homes of many of his closest friends and neighbors. His wife, Mary Barnes, also an architect, had a longstanding involvement with the Katonah Gallery—soon to become the Katonah Museum of Art—as a trustee and member of its exhibition advisory board. There was no architect more appropriate for the new museum than Ed Barnes, especially with his background in designing world-class art museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The result was the creation of a perfectly balanced structure comprised of two symmetrical galleries and a soaring atrium. Glass portals on either side provide a prism onto exterior beauty, which Barnes treated with the reverence of an artwork. Again and again, friends who knew and worked with Ed Barnes comment on his humility, which translates in his designs. As Barnes put it himself, “within the museum, the architect must not upstage the art.”

A Home for Art: Edward Larrabee Barnes and the KMA presents an overview of Barnes’ career and seminal role in modern architecture, including a close look at the many Westchester homes he designed. The architect’s homes are visually striking and classically modern with sharp lines, white walls, flat roofs, and abundant glass. Here, again, flow is a priority and a sense of openness is cherished. The first house Barnes built in Westchester was the Reid House from 1950, and the second was his own in 1952. It was originally designed as a platform house, similar to Philip Johnson’s famed Glass House. Four others followed in Chappaqua (1957), Pound Ridge (1958), Tarrytown (1967), and Bedford Hills (1975). Photographs of these elegant expressions of Barnes’ vision make up a generous part of the exhibition displayed in a starkly beautiful museum designed masterfully by him.

Archival material from the Katonah Historical Society as well as photographs, drawings, and blueprints from the Loeb Library at the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Edward Larrabee Barnes holdings will provide depth to the presentation. Video interviews with local residents who knew Barnes and worked with him on the Museum will reveal a much beloved member of the community and an unassuming local celebrity.

A related exhibition will be on view in a neighboring gallery during A Home for Art: Edward Larrabee Barnes and the KMA. Contemporary multimedia artist and sculptor Chris Larson will interweave the extraordinary story of the relocation of the town of Katonah in the late 19th century with the history of the Barnes-designed Katonah Museum of Art. The exhibition is titled Chris Larson: The Katonah Relocation Project, on view March 29 through June 28, 2015.

Trained by modernist masters at Harvard University, Edward Larrabee Barnes strove for simplicity and functionality in his designs for skyscrapers, museums, schools, camps, colleges, botanical gardens, and private homes. After graduation from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1942, Barnes served in World War II, and in 1949, opened his own architectural practice in Manhattan. During his prodigious career he designed many renowned buildings including, IBM’s corporate headquarters on Madison Avenue, the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, and the Haystack Mountain School of Arts and Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, among many others. In 1994, Barnes’ Haystack project was honored with the American Institute of Architects’ 25-Year Award, calling it ''an early and profound example of the fruitful and liberating fusion of the vernacular building traditions with the rationality and discipline of Modern architecture.'' Barnes was posthumously awarded the American Institute of Architects’ highest honor, the AIA Gold Medal, in 2007.

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