Sunday, March 21, 2010

Renaming the Barnes : Call for Suggestions

We watched The Art of the Steal yesterday, which chronicles how the explicit wishes of Albert C. Barnes (who amassed what is universally considered one of the best collections of post-Impressionist and Modernist artwork in the world [one that also just so happens to be valued at between $25-30 billion...that's right, billion]) have been ignored in order to move his collection, the heart of The Barnes Foundation, to a more tourist-friendly location in downtown Philadelphia. There have been legal challenges to this decision (see the website of the Friends of the Barnes for details), but despite how many judges and politicians will uphold the go-ahead of what certainly looks like a corporate takeover (and despite the fact that I have a few problems with the filmmakers' lack of balance in telling their story), I have been convinced that it's the height of chutzpah and an unforgivable insult to continue to associate the name of "Barnes" with the new tourist attraction that will soon house his legacy.

Regardless of which of the rationales for the move its supporters offer (they range from the art is more important than the will of one man... to... it wasn't [economically or logistically] feasible to leave the work in the original location [which is still today debatable ...The Wall Street Journal argues that "creating a downtown museum, while also maintaining the Merion outpost for the foundation's archives and arboretum, might actually exacerbate its financial woes by increasing its operating expenses"]... to... this will be really, really lucrative), no one who watches this film could possibly imagine that the central Philadelphia location is anything Dr. Barnes would want his name attached to. It's the exact opposite of what he was very, very careful to put into his will as to his wishes for how his efforts should be remembered. Therefore, IMO, the facilitators of this move should agree, at the very least, to change the name of the new institution.

Interviewed in the film, arts reporter David D'Arcy christened it the "McBarnes, " which nicely reflects the stated prioritization of efficiently filing more tourists through the collection, but it's not exactly fair to the fast food restaurant chain. Moreover, the movers and shakers behind the move (essentially the new owners of the collection) are probably not going to agree to something that they feel mocks all their hard work to circumvent Dr. Barne's will.

Therefore, I think a new name of the museum should, in the way that "The Barnes Foundation" carried the surname of the person whose vision it embodied, more accurately reveal whose vision this new building and location represents. Possibilities include The P.A.L. Foundation (for Pew Charitable Trusts; the Annenberg Foundation; and The Lenfest Foundation [cite]); The Rendell-Perelman Agreement Gallery (for the current PA governor and chairman emeritus of the Philadelphia Museum's board of trustees who has long lobbied for the move, [cite]); or perhaps the Former Philly's Mayors Memorial Museum [Rendell (also formerly the Mayor of Philadelphia) and also former Mayor John Street both have publicly cheered the move with dollar signs in their eyes, with Street rather crudely stating it would have "the financial impact of three Super Bowls without the beer."].

Other suggestions?

UPDATE: Donn Zaretsky notes, in response to this post, on The Art Law Blog:
It is in fact true that no one watching the film could possibly imagine that, but it's worth noting again in this connection Barnes chairman Bernard Watson's claim that the central Philadelphia locations "was, in fact, anticipated by Section 11 of the Barnes Foundation Indenture," which includes the following:

". . . should it for any other reason become impossible to administer the trust hereby created concerning said collection of pictures, then the property and funds contributed by Donor to Donee shall be applied to an object as nearly within the scope herein indicated and laid down as shall be possible, such application to be in connection with an existing and organized institution then in being and functioning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or its suburbs" (emphasis added).
That doesn't address the other already clearly violated terms of the indenture (such as "After the Donor’s death no picture belonging to the collection shall ever be loaned, sold or otherwise disposed of." [emphasis added]) nor the question of whether it truly has become "impossible" to administer the trust as set out, or--through behind-the-scenes maneuvering--merely now possible. Nor does it address the film's assertion that Barnes specifically wanted the exact institutions now running his foundation to be kept away from his art.

Labels: art collecting, art legacy, art museums


Blogger George said...

Leave the Barnes where it is and move Philadelphia to it.

3/22/2010 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Outrageous and very sad..

I do have name suggestions, but I'm sure some people have more colorful language than me, can come up with better, more deserving names.

3/22/2010 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Was it the other week I was reading or watching or listening to a story on how a significant cultural donation was framed so that 3 different institutions each received a portion of the gift. Within the conditions was the clause that if the conditions of the donation were not met, then the other recipients were to receive the portion of the donation that had gone to the negligent institution. Meet the conditions or loose the gift, and there were upfront 2 other institutions who would step in to take legal action if the other party didn't meet the donatition requirements....

really tempted to do some name calling here , but bullying tactics have been shown to actually physically modify the brain of the victim, so they probably also affect in some negative way the name caller,so I'll pass but boy are there a lot of names ....

but on the other hand (glad I only have two) if you give a gift, it really isn't yours anymore, you've given the responsibility of ownership over the receiver.

3/22/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Easily one of the documentaries I've seen over the past year and I have seen tons of them.

Pew and Lenfest should be taken to task for their dirty hands in this, everything they did (with the help of the Annenberg's) was to destroy Dr. Barnes' express wishes. They are all hideous.

I suggest they call it "The Barnes 2: Annenberg's Revenge".

----ondine nyc

3/22/2010 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous nemastoma said...

With the new Barnes Museum being really the consolation prize vis-à-vis its parent version, why not rename the Museum “The Barnabas”? Barnabas after all was known as “The Son of Consolation”.

3/22/2010 01:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i went to art school in philadelphia and am ashamed to say i never went to the barnes... none of us did that i recall... it was outside the city, with a reputation for being a pain in the ass to visit... we did often go to the the pma and local galleries.

center city philadelphia is full of art schools - Tyler, UofA, Penn Academy of Fine Arts, Moore, University of Penns - i bet most of these art students have not visited the barnes.

very glad that place is moving. the new location on the parkway is not only tourist friendly but a popular area for everyone. check out logan circle across the street on a hot summer day.

3/22/2010 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My fervent wish would be that the Barnes could stay as Mr. Barnes put forth in his will, but history has proven, from the Egyptians down to the present, that the dead cannot direct the living from the grave. Many, many have tried. None have succeeded for very long.

3/22/2010 05:13:00 PM  
Anonymous ak said...

Despite the obvious bias, it was an incredibly insightful documentary. And I think it's pretty obvious that what happened in Philly is a disgrace, but hardly surprising. I was so angry when I left the theater, mostly because you kind of hope that despite the problems with the art world, that ART means something, that it could somehow exist, in some magical instances, outside of corruption. But it really doesn't. Not often. (One exception is the Chinati Foundation.) The Barnes collection didn't appear out of nowhere, Dr. Barnes put it together. And he was so careful to leave a legacy that was the exact opposite of what has happened.

On your update: I'm convinced (as the film argues) that there absolutely was a way for the Foundation to come up with an endowment.

Here is Bernard C. Watson's rebuttal to the film, which reads like bullshit. There's so much information in that film. It's a joke what has happened, and I agree with whoever said it, that those fools don't even realize what they are doing.

It's disgusting.

Thanks for writing about it.

3/22/2010 07:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the art should have been buried with him, and while we're at it, let's bury the artists alive in a separate smaller monument that resembles a barn.

3/22/2010 07:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the documentary, nor have I given this issue as much thought as it deserves. But as long as we are considering the wishes of the deceased Dr. Barnes, I wonder what the deceased artists in his collection would think about all this? My guess is Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, etc. would be in favor of having their work seen by as many visitors as possible. I'm more interested in their wishes than the good Doctor's. Who must have been quite a charmer, by the way:,9171,827713,00.html

3/22/2010 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the issue is much important apart from reminding us that we don't have control on things after our death. But I have a romantic notion about travelling to remote places to see art. Also, it always feel safer in the country. I don't know why I'm saying that, but I remember walking
in the streets in the evening of Philadelphia after a museum hop, and feeling scared, because everything was shut down, not a soul on the streets, and this is
sometimes a sign that people have good reasons to hide (by the time I reached Chinatown, it was much better).

But finally, art should be powerful enough to transcend the place where it is exhibited. What Barnes wrote in his will, he imposed to the artists he collected, and this isn't fair
to the artists. It is not just about Barnes. What about what the artists want??

Cedric C

3/22/2010 08:41:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Nothing but sad. There is nothing like the original in all it's quirky wonderfulness. If you've never been get there soon!

3/22/2010 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But as long as we are considering the wishes of the deceased Dr. Barnes, I wonder what the deceased artists in his collection would think about all this? My guess is Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, etc. would be in favor of having their work seen by as many visitors as possible.

Well, with regards to at least one of them, we don't have to wonder. Matisse said (of the original location) "The Barnes Foundation is the only sane place to see art in America.”

He must have had a reason to think so, no?

3/22/2010 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Haha, he probably went directly from the Guggenheim and Moma to Barnes. I'd have to peruse a list of american museums that Matisse visited before I trust that opinion.

Cedric C

3/23/2010 02:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should keep the original space opened for "less important" art or contemporary propositions.
So, part of the Barnes spirit would remain in this way. And it is such a lovely space and museum, it would be sad to close it.

If this was in Europe they wouldn't have moved the collection. Regional tourism is strong over there.

Cedric C

3/23/2010 02:46:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

How about the The Art Barnes, or Art Cheap N Easy? or Barnes Ignoble?

3/23/2010 07:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Well, with regards to at least one of them, we don't have to wonder. Matisse said (of the original location) 'The Barnes Foundation is the only sane place to see art in America.'"

Sounds like a data point, the one that gets quoted. I guess we may not know how the others felt.

My understanding, from Googling, is that Barnes essentially closed his museum to many (most) visitors out of spite. Do I understand correctly that he even wrote that in his will, and those clauses from his will had to be voided 10 years after his death before access was increased? It seems to me that this is where the trouble began, and everything that happened since has come from that. So I suggest "The Spite Museum."

3/23/2010 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

The problem with naming the place after the folks who trashed Barnes' wishes is that ultimately their names will be associated with the great collection. That's to their advantage. Barnes basically wanted this to stoke his ego and his reputation, giving himself the same kind of immortality artists have. The collection, where ever it is housed, should reflect that.

3/23/2010 11:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

This is nothing but absurd. If the Barnes were several hundred miles away from the city, you could make some sense of this. It is less than 5 miles from the city.

After checking out the Friends of the Barnes Foundation site, their "Sensible Solutions" contain practical ideas and goals.

My proposal for a new name: MA BOG ...
Money Agenda, Born of Greed.

3/24/2010 04:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

paul it is close to the city but was not accesible by public transportation. it was also required to schedule visits in advance... you couldn't decide to go that day and go. and it had limited and strange hours. seriously it was a hard place to visit.. especially for spontaneous young people, with no cars.

(i'm the art student from before)

i mean, now of course i am kicking myself for not going... but, you know, kids.

when barnes was alive he operated a school there, and he was the teacher... he was all about education, and was a MAGNET for the place... they went to study under Barnes, not for the collection (i've subsequently met some).

if he knew that in the past forty+ years art students just DO NOT GO...

YAY to Barnes Move!

but if i was on your no-move side i would nominate Barnes Ignoble.

3/25/2010 02:03:00 PM  

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