Pennsylvania Judge Hears Arguments (Again) Concerning Barnes Foundation’s New Home

junkyardarts August 3, 2011 Comments Off on Pennsylvania Judge Hears Arguments (Again) Concerning Barnes Foundation’s New Home


After years of arguing over the Barnes Foundation collection, and subsequent settling of the case which decided the collection would move to it’s new home (and fancy new building) on Ben Franklin Blvd in Philly and 5 miles from it’s current home, a judge has reopened the case thanks to a citizens group petition.

Regardless of merit, general understanding of how a museum works and a real love of the works contained within the collection.

This whole issue a kind of a clusterfuck.  The Barnes Foundation is a staggering collection of some of the most important artists in history – Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Degas and Cezanne, as well as thousands of other works ranging from African icons to modern masterpieces from Joan Miro. It is worth over 25 Billion dollars.  It is regarded as the world’s most impressive and important private collection and rivals museums three times the size in collection ‘awe’.  It is also a collection housed away from the main tourist arenas in Philly and owned by an endowment that is facing bankruptcy.

The Friends of the Barnes Foundation, the citizens group, is claiming that the judge didn’t have all the information he needed when he ruled in 2004 that the Barnes has the right to move to a new location, and that the then-Attorney General misled the judge in his arguments.  Lawyers for the Barnes Foundation claim the group has no idea what they are talking about and the move is completely necessary for the safety of the collection.  The judge is now evaluating whether or not to reopen this case.

Here’s the issue (amongst the others): “The trust of Barnes, a self-made millionaire who died in a 1951 car crash at age 78, stipulated that his trove of 800 impressionist and postimpressionist masterpieces “remain in exactly the places they are” after his death and gave control of his foundation to Lincoln University, a historically black school in nearby Chester County. “

Those words: remain in exactly the places they are, are extremely important to honor, if only because so many valuable collections and spaces can be commercialized and torn apart without the protection of a clear and direct message from the owner, and subsequently the Board of Directors.  Without such a clause, who’s to say that the collection couldn’t be sold off to pay the bills?


What this clause does not directly help the Board with is the unfortunate issue of revenue.  It is safe to speculate that Barnes did not consider location and economic downturn could threaten the existence of his collection, probably because he intentionally chose the location of the building to be away from the main thrust of the public.  He wanted to keep the building more intimate, and function as an educational facility, but the result of this will be that the collection will be locked away and never again be viewed by the public for educational and inspirational purposes because he demanded it never be moved, loaned or sold.  While the citizens group is arguing that the collection must stay where it is, what other option is there if they are not offering major fundraising, personal donations or membership drives as an option?

Here’s the thing: Nonprofits do not exist because they do not make any money.  There is a reason museums and schools charge admission – it is because they need to pay the bills, maintenance, staffing, etc.  Nonprofits are in the business of helping a cause and following a mission for a specific audience and a specific goal and absolutely intend of making boat loads of cash to keep things running smoothly and improve their offerings.  It’s a business, plain and simple.  Though we will say it is an altruistic business so this doesn’t sound all gloom and doom.

And, well,  The Barnes is going out of business.  For whatever reason (though it is safe to say that lack of revenue is a main factor in addition to zoning issues they are facing) the Foundation is in trouble and the only way to keep it intact and following the mission of the Foundation is to move it to a move visible location and more public awareness.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum faced similar issues when plans for a new addition to the building (planning to open January of 2012) and demolition of a carriage house were underway.  Gardner’s will was similar to Barnes’ in which she stated that the collection and the building must remain as it is forever, and if anything was changed the collection was to be sold off and the funds go to Harvard University.  Again, arguments for the change included fulfilling the Museum’s mission, aiding the community, bringing needed revenue to the Museum and keeping it competitive in the very tough world of New England tourist attractions.

The Gardner faced similar scrutiny from citizen groups, and perhaps the Gardner wasn’t facing such dire circumstances as the Barnes but both demonstrate a community’s fierce protection of treasured local attractions that make the neighborhoods so unique.  And that is a wonderful thing!  But for the love of god people, can’t we just have a calm, collected discussion about these things instead of each side just saying “I’m right and therefore don’t have to acknowledge your concerns”?

Generally, I think the Barnes’ is doing the right thing in relocating – and the deal they got in doing so was not terrible but certainly not ideal:

“The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Lenfest Foundation and The Annenberg Foundation promised to help the Barnes raise $150 million for a new gallery and an endowment when the relocation to Philadelphia was approved. In exchange, Lincoln University ceded control of the foundation’s board of trustees and permitted its new benefactors to appoint their own members.”

Should Lincoln University have had to cede control of the Board?  I don’t think so – I think they should have been able to keep some if not all members on the Board as a show of good faith, but that’s just me.  I’m all about rose colored glasses and happy endings.  But what is the most important issue, one that I think everyone can agree with, is that the Barnes collection is that of such significance it would be a crime to take it from the public view.

Conversely, there is a documentary out about this whole battle, The Art of the Steal, and it is quite interesting, I suggest you take a look.

Yes, we are coming form two opposing points of view but I am more than happy to offer up their opinion as valid – I just don’t happen to agree with them entirely. And you know what? That’s ok.
ArtDaily / The Art of the Steal /

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