Isaac Julien — Chapter 2: The Barnes Foundation

In the second story of our series leading up to the exhibition opening, we turn our focus to the Barnes Foundation, its historic collection, and its role in commissioning Isaac Julien’s work Once Again… (Statues Never Die).

The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922. Dr. Barnes, an American physician, businessman, and art collector, amassed an extraordinary collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings, including works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. 


However, the Barnes Collection is notable for its inclusion of African sculptures, textiles, and metalwork. This diverse collection reflects Dr. Barnes’s progressive views on art and education, emphasizing the aesthetic equivalences across cultures and challenging the racial and cultural hierarchies of his time.

The Foundation’s mission has always been rooted in education. Dr. Barnes believed that art had the power to improve minds and transform lives. He established the Barnes as an educational institution, not just a museum, with the goal of promoting the appreciation of art. This vision continues to guide the Foundation today, as it offers a range of classes, workshops, and public programs.

Commissioning Isaac Julien’s Once Again… (Statues Never Die) is a continuation of the Barnes Foundation’s commitment to exploring and understanding the connections between art, culture, and society. Julien’s work is particularly resonant with the Foundation’s history because it delves into the relationship between Dr. Barnes and Alain Locke. This relationship was pivotal in bringing African art into the sphere of fine art in America, aligning perfectly with Barnes’s philosophy of cross-cultural appreciation.

Isaac Julien’s installation invites viewers to reconsider the ways in which African art has been historically perceived and presented in Western contexts. It also resonates with current discussions on the repatriation and restitution of cultural artifacts. By exploring the dialogues between Barnes and Locke, Julien’s work sheds light on the complexities of cultural exchange, appropriation, and respect in the context of art.

As we unveil Isaac Julien’s installation, we reflect on the Barnes Foundation’s legacy in art and culture, enhancing our insight into the Harlem Renaissance and themes of identity and expression.

For additional details on the Barnes Foundation and Isaac Julien’s Once Again… (Statues Never Die), you can visit the Barnes Foundation’s dedicated page about the project below. This page offers more insight into their history, exhibitions, and educational initiatives.

Visit Barnes Foundation


ABOUT Isaac Julien

Sir Isaac Julien KBE RA (GB, 1960), a London-born filmmaker and installation artist, is celebrated for his groundbreaking approach to art, seamlessly merging film, dance, photography, music, theater, painting, and sculpture to craft compelling visual narratives through multi-screen film installations. Notably, his 1989 documentary-drama “Looking for Langston” and the Cannes Film Festival Semaine de la Critique prize-winning debut feature, “Young Soul Rebels” (1991), garnered critical acclaim on a global scale.

Julien’s international acclaim extends to prestigious solo exhibitions at prominent venues, including the Barnes Foundation, Smith College Museum of Art, and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. His works have graced the walls of renowned institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

In addition to his artistic pursuits, Julien has made significant contributions to academia, holding key positions at institutions like the University of Arts London and Staatliche Hoscschule fur Gestaltung, Karlsruhe. His educational efforts were further recognized when he was awarded the James Robert Brudner ’83 Memorial Prize and delivered lectures at Yale University in 2016.

Isaac Julien’s dedication to the arts has earned him distinguished accolades, including The Royal Academy of Arts Charles Wollaston Award in 2017 and a knighthood as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Honours List in 2022. Furthermore, he was honored with the esteemed Kaiserring Goslar Award in 2022.

In April 2023, Tate Britain hosted a comprehensive survey show, presenting Isaac Julien’s illustrious career. This exhibition featured works spanning four decades, encompassing early films and expansive multi-screen installations that delve into the themes of global movement and history. It marked the first-ever presentation of Isaac Julien’s extensive body of work in the United Kingdom. Following its showcase at Tate Britain, the exhibition traveled to K21 in Düsseldorf, with its next destination set to be Bonnefanten in Maastricht, where it will be open for viewing from March 9 onwards.