Barnes Foundation's big catch is lured back to Paris to re-join famed Musee d'Orsay

Sylvie, we hardly got to know ye.

Less than two years after arriving at the Barnes Foundation from Paris’ Musée d’Orsay, the Barnes’ chief curator Sylvie Patry, 48, is returning to France and to her erstwhile museum. It’s pretty much a dream job, she says. The Orsay, as she calls it, has carved out a position for her as deputy director for curatorial affairs and collections, giving her, essentially, the run of the place.

She will continue as consultant at the Barnes for a couple of years, shepherding several exhibition projects forward, including the intriguing Anselm Kiefer-Auguste Rodin show coming in November featuring the work of the famous German painter and sculptor, now 72, in response to the renowned French sculptor. And she will be working on the Barnes’ Cézanne catalog raisonné, a scholarly account of every work by the artist in the museum’s collection.

Leaving Philadelphia, even after a relatively short time here, she diplomatically says is “bittersweet.” Her first curated exhibition for the Barnes, “Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders,” just opened (it runs through Oct. 2). But Paris, you know.

How can you leave Philadelphia for Paris?

I don’t know.

The Mohamed Bourouissa exhibition is your first for the Barnes, and you’re leaving before it closes.

It is the first. I had the idea when I was still in Paris at the end of 2015, when I saw Mohamed’s exhibition about this project he made in Philadelphia. He had this show in [a Paris gallery] and when I visited I thought it was a good subject for the Barnes. But I am not a contemporary art person. That is not my specialty, which is Impressionism and post-Impressionism. So this is my first exhibition at the Barnes and my first exhibition of a living artist.

So, Bourouissa was in Philadelphia in 2013 and 2014 hanging out with the African American horsemen at the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Strawberry Mansion. He filmed and photographed and worked on a special “Horse Day” competition and celebration with them. The body of work from that project is now on view at the Barnes. What attracted you?

First, he is a very good artist, he’s an emerging artist. He’s mostly worked on French subject matters but he has an openness to the U.S., to North America. I love the connection — that foreign take, that international take on a local situation.

It’s Philadelphia-related but it is coming from an artist with an international reputation, mostly in Europe, but he has works here, at the [Philadelphia Museum of Art]. I think it was a good fit for the Barnes. This is his first solo exhibition in a major museum.

Costume for Chanel, for rider Caleb, on exhibit in Mohamed Bourouissa: Urban Riders, currently on view at the Barnes Foundation. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)

And then the next exhibition at the Barnes, which you are jointly curating with the Rodin Museum in Paris, will be “Kiefer Rodin.” Mark Rosenthal, who was then at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, co-curated Kiefer’s first touring retrospective in 1988. What’s Kiefer’s Rodin connection?

This is a project born in Paris a couple of years ago when the Rodin Museum in Paris wanted to publish a book, the only book written by Rodin [about French cathedrals], and they wanted to republish it with new illustrations by Kiefer. So he read the book and got excited and it grew and became an exhibition.

I decided that since in Philadelphia we have the largest collection of Rodin outside of Paris that it would make sense to have it here, especially since the Barnes is celebrating its fifth year on the Parkway.

And it is the centennial of Rodin’s death, with the Rodin Museum literally right next door.

Yes. This is the kind of connection made possible by the move of the Barnes to the Parkway. We have the Rodin Museum right there and also Kiefer has a special connection to Philadelphia because the Mark Rosenthal retrospective launched Kiefer’s career in the U.S. and this is something Kiefer acknowledges. Philadelphia played a special role for him.

What other exhibitions are forthcoming that you will be working on a Barnes consultant?

There will be an exhibition devoted to [artist, ceramist, filmmaker] Jean Renoir, which has a strong connection to the foundation. [Jean’s father was painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, whose work is a cornerstone of the Barnes collection.] This project was specifically shaped for the Barnes. I’m very excited by it. …

The other project is a retrospective devoted to Berthe Morisot. The way we shaped the exhibition program at the Barnes is to have exhibitions that deal with the history of the foundation, of the collection, or complement the collection. This is the role of Berthe Morisot because Barnes used to have a painting by her. But he sold that painting. I think she is the great absence from the collection, and we have few woman artists in the collection itself.