What is Save The Barnes, Stop The Move?
We are a coalition of citizens, art lovers, historians, and civic leaders from Pennsylvania and throughout the world, united in our opposition to the plan to move the Barnes Foundation’s art collection to Philadelphia. We believe that Merion is and will forever remain the ideal place to see Dr. Albert C. Barnes’s historic collection, exactly as he intended. We believe the move would be a colossal and senseless waste of money and would prove to be a fiasco. The way we see it, the forces attempting to move The Barnes to the Parkway are pillaging a great man’s legacy. We disagree with the philistine compulsion to create a diminished reproduction for commercial purposes. We respect the integrity of The Barnes and its historic value. We disagree with the elitist group of clueless boosters who are trying to destroy an internationally-renowned cultural institution to feed an appetite for ribbon cuttings and galas.
What’s so special about The Barnes?
Inside the Barnes Foundation is one of the most important art troves in the world, a collection so encyclopedic in scope and singularly brilliant in arrangement that it is, itself, a work of art. There is nothing like The Barnes anywhere else—an institution where the collector was a contemporary and friend of the artists themselves; where the founder was also the director, acquirer, and chief curator; where the setting is woven so thoroughly into the work presented that it is no longer a frame, but actually integrated into the art and its meaning.
The Barnes Foundation holds one of the world’s greatest private art collections, presented exactly as its creator intended. Among Dr. Barnes’s holdings are 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, seven van Goghs, four Manets, and four Monets. These names and numbers alone—impressive as they are—do little to convey the splendor of the collection. Barnes arranged his paintings in provocative ensembles among ironworks, tools, textiles, pottery, masks, furniture and other objects of utility and folklore. The collection is both a vast store of artistic genius and a harmonious assembly that combines these individual elements into one vast meta-work.
Barnes himself transcended the category of the collector. He was a serious educator who worked with John Dewey to develop a school of art appreciation where the art gallery is the classroom and the works of art are the study materials. Barnes understood art to be a universal expression among cultures and throughout history. His aesthetic sensibility was far ahead of his time, as evidenced in the richness and depth of his collection.
Yet the Barnes Foundation is much more than an art collection. It is an ensemble of art, architecture, and horticulture where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The art is housed in a gallery building designed specifically for the collection by Paul Philippe Cret, one of the 20th century’s most notable architects. The gallery building incorporates works of art by Jacques Lipchitz and Henri Matisse and includes African motifs throughout. It is situated purposefully in the midst of a 12-acre historic arboretum with notable collections of trees and plants, extensive gardens, a tranquil pond and tea house. Albert Barnes described the ensemble as “indivisible.” It is an experience like no other. It takes your breath away.
What would Dr. Barnes have to say about the plan to move his art collection?
We are convinced he would be furious. Dr. Barnes’s Indenture of Trust specifies that the art collection should forever remain in Merion, integrated with its surroundings and designed for his intended educational purpose.
The notion that The Barnes is a reproducible commodity that can be packed up, shipped off, and re-situated to meet the demands of the contemporary political moment is an insult to the chain of events and relationships made manifest by Albert Barnes.
The Barnes, in its totality, is a site-specific work of art. We believe that those who seek to uproot the collection and move it are like art thieves, who “steal more than beautiful objects. They steal memories and identities.  They steal history.” (Robert K. Wittman, founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team and author of Priceless)
Wait, won’t the art collection to the Parkway make it easier for more people to see it?
Yes, but it would also mean that no one would ever again be able to have the depth and breadth of the experience possible in Merion. The Liberty Bell would be seen by more people if it were moved to Times Square. And wouldn’t Independence Hall touch a greater number of hearts and minds of we dug up its foundations and trucked it off to Disneyworld or Washington, DC? How about ripping Michelangelo’s frescoes out of those shabby Roman basilicas? Would the public interest be better served by moving Fallingwater to the center of Pittsburgh or Stonehenge to the middle of London?
Accessibility isn’t the only factor one should consider. Context and history matter, too. The Barnes Foundation in Merion is a singular monument, imbued with historical integrity and profound meaning It cannot be replicated or reproduced.
In 1998, Steve Wynn bought the historic “Dream Garden” mosaic mural created by Maxfield Parrish and Louis Comfort Tiffany. He wanted to move it from the Curtis Publishing Building in Center City Philadelphia to one of his Las Vegas casinos. Philadelphia art lovers stepped in and stopped him. In 2006, Thomas Jefferson University sold “The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins to two museums in Washington D.C. and Bentonville, Arkansas. Once again, Philadelphia’s art community stepped in to keep this local treasure from becoming just another publicly-traded commodity on the global art market. This same respect for our cultural heritage must prevent The Barnes from being transformed into a soulless replica of itself.
Is it hard for the general public to see the collection in Merion?
It’s only as complicated as making a reservation at a quality restaurant. The Barnes is only 4 ½ miles from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s not like you have to take a mule ride through the mountains to get there. It takes less time to get to The Barnes from the Art Museum than it takes to get from there to the Liberty Bell. And there is a bus and a train that makes the trip from Philadelphia to Merion.
We think a shuttle bus from the Art Museum to The Barnes would be a good idea, and it would be a relaxing and scenic ride. In the past, the first 100 persons in line could enter The Barnes without a reservation and there is no reason that policy couldn’t be re-instituted. The truth is that the Barnes Foundation’s own policies make getting to see it much more difficult than it has to be.
How much will the proposed move cost?
In 2004, when the plan to steal Dr. Barnes’s collection first got underway, $100 million was projected for construction and another $50 million for an endowment. Now, the estimated cost for construction has ballooned to $150 million – a 50% increase for a building that will now be 30% smaller. No less alarming, the funding for the endowment that was supposed to increase from $50 million to $100 million is nowhere in sight. So, the current cost projection for the project is at least $250 million.
That’s about a quarter of a billion dollars. Where will all that money come from?
Some will come from private donors. The rest of the bill will be paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers. So far, the Barnes Foundation claims it has about $160 million in money and pledges. But the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are the biggest contributors, unknowingly spending at least $30 million so far and as much as $107 million to build a second-rate replica of a gallery that already exists.
Why are we spending money on this boondoggle when existing cultural organizations are scrambling for money to survive? It makes no sense to spend over $200 million to move an art collection only 4½ miles from its historic home, where it has resided in perfection for over 80 years.
What does Save The Barnes, Stop The Move want?
First, we demand that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett immediately open an investigation into the plan to move the art collection, including the feasibility of its business model and the long-term financial sustainability of the Barnes Foundation.
Second, we demand that legislators take all possible steps to prevent state and federal taxpayer money from being spent on the move of the Barnes art collection.
Third, we demand that the Barnes Board of Trustees pursue National Historic Landmark status for the Barnes Foundation. This is the highest level of historical and cultural significance bestowed by the U.S. government and The Barnes has already been deemed eligible, but only if the art collection remains in Merion.
Fourth, we demand that the Barnes Board take steps to have the Barnes Foundation nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List as “a masterpiece of human creative genius (that) bears unique testimony to the traditions of Western art, and has outstanding universal significance.”
These seem like lofty goals. And so they should be. Add your voice to the growing chorus of opposition to the move and sign the petition.
Do you really think The Barnes move can be stopped this late in the process?
Yes. The collection is still in Merion. Until the moving trucks unload the artworks, this is not over. We are in a severe budget crisis. New evidence of the political wheeling and dealing behind the move continues to come to light. Unbelievably, there has not been an objective analysis of the financial feasibility of the move.
We continue to explore options for a new legal challenge. Elections are coming up. We must make our voices heard. Legislators must stand up and stop this unnecessary and destructive project and speak out against this unconscionable waste of scarce public resources.
We can turn this around. Help us do it.
What can I do?
Sign the petition calling upon those responsible to stop any further public funding for the move. Ask others to do the same thing. We need your voice to create a deafening chorus of opposition to the move. We will distribute the petitions to elected officials and others who can help.
See and share “The Art of the Steal.” This documentary reveals the back story of the Barnes robbery. It is available on Netflix, in libraries, for purchase at Amazon.com, and as a gift to you for making a contribution to BarnesWatch of $35 or more.
Contribute.   Make a tax-deductible donation in any amount to BarnesWatch and help us get the word out. And remember, we are an all-volunteer organization. Every penny you donate goes to the cause. If you contribute $35 or more, you will receive a gift of the DVD of “The Art of the Steal.”
Join Friends of the Barnes Foundation by sending an e-mail tobarnesfriends@comcast.net. It’s free. When you write, share your thoughts and expertise. We welcome your participation.
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