poster by Benjamin Everett
Pretty much everybody now gets that the Barnes move is a highly-orchestrated endeavor by a small but extremely rich and extremely powerful group of the Who and Who of Philadelphia (Pews, Lenfests, Annenbergs) now joined by like-minded moneybags. But the perennial question remains: “Exactly how did they break Dr. Barnes’ will?” (Indenture of Trust)
Good question! After all, Dr. Barnes left what he thought was an ironclad Indenture of Trust governing his Foundation that could not be clearer: the art collection was to remain part of the integrated complex -- an art gallery and arboretum on 12 acres in Merion. The two elements are parts of the same education purpose and “indivisible” as long as the Barnes Foundation functions as Dr. Barnes intended. But here in Pennsylvania, given enough rich and politically-connected people with serious art-lust, even the strongest Trust document can be cannibalized. How was it done?
The story gets a little complicated, but the essence of it is simple. First, you have to be very patient. We heard from a very reliable source that when asked about the Barnes, one socially prominent person answered, “The Barnes? Oh, we’re going to steal it fair and square.” And we’re not naming names, so forget it. Anyway, it’s not important who said it, but when it was said: around 1981.
Patience was handsomely rewarded. Conditions at the Barnes worsened due to years of poor management unchallenged by the Attorney General's Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section. The Barnes was brought to a vulnerable state. And then – they pounced. Well, not pounced exactly. First they played cat and mouse with the Judge, with the brave Barnes students and their brave lawyers in multiple Court hearings.
Hearings normally serve to illuminate a situation. Not the Barnes hearings. This was a chorus of witnesses who wove a tapestry presenting a lop-sided picture that supported moving the art collection to a Philadelphia address but with no one taking an adversarial position to test the case. The Attorney General, whose only job was to vigorously probe and challenge the witnesses, has been described as “supine.” (Not our word, but we like it.)
The recurring themes were along these lines: The Barnes can’t possibly survive in Merion and there’s absolutely nothing more we can do to help ourselves. If we don’t move to Philadelphia to the welcoming arms of Rebecca Rimel, Gerry Lenfest, and their rich friends, Dr. Barnes’ school could close and the art collection could be scattered to the four corners of the earth.
For one interpretation of the legal endeavor, see the essay published in the Main Line Times, “How to steal the Barnes art collection – ‘fair and square.’”
If you are really into it, you can see the Testimony from the September 2004 hearings for yourself on the Friends of the Barnes Foundation website. You’ll read the words of esteemed lawyer Arlin Adams setting the tone in the first session (Vol. I., p. 15), “I think I'm the only one in this room and maybe in any room who knew Dr. Barnes; and I can represent to the Court without any qualification that this would not have been a difficult decision for Dr. Barnes to have made.” Wow! Opening things up with two ambiguous, pro-move statements in one breath! Surely Mr. Adams knew that there were several people alive who knew Dr. Barnes. One of them – the beloved late Barnes teacher and painter, Harry Sefarbi – had testified in early hearings. And surely he knew that Dr. Barnes said that the art collection and the surrounding 12-acre arboretum were “indivisible.”
You might find the Testimony quite entertaining as Barnes insiders (Trustee Stephen Harmelin [Vol., VII], Board Chair Bernard Watson [Vol. X], CEO Kimberly Camp [Vol. X], and others) tell the Judge much that supported the move to Philadelphia but left out a lot of crucial information that ran in exactly the opposite direction. They seemed to imagine that no one would notice.
Hope you’ll stay tuned as we plumb the depths further in “Tales from the Crypt” some prize exchanges from earlier Testimony in the Barnes case. As has been said so many times – “You couldn’t make this stuff up!”