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Edward J. Sozanski Columns

January 18, 2004
The Barnes should stay put; The foundation hasn't justified a move to the Parkway, and should sell art to raise money.
I wouldn't blame Judge Stanley Ott if he envied King Solomon.
Determining a baby's real mother was child's play. Ott, president judge of Montgomery County Orphans' Court, is trying to figure out how to save the Barnes Foundation from financial collapse while preserving the integrity of the indenture under which it operates.
Full Story


May 16, 2004
School or museum, Barnes doesn't have a moving case
The author's scholarly rectitude precludes her taking sides, especially on the two unresolved questions at the heart of the continuing Barnes imbroglio, issues that for the most part have been swept under the rug, especially by the successive Barnes administrations.
Full Story


December 14, 2004
It can move, but it won't be the Barnes anymore;
Ripped from its context, it will be just another "attraction" on Philadelphia's cultural midway.

When Judge Stanley Ott ruled yesterday that the Barnes Foundation could move its incomparable art collection from Lower Merion to Center City, the phrase sic transit gloria mundi popped into my head.
Full Story


December 19, 2004
Perfect copy may not be perfect
The board that couldn't think straight has struck again.
The trustees of the Barnes Foundation petitioned Judge Stanley R. Ott of Montgomery County Orphans' Court to let them move the foundation's astonishing art collection to Center City.
Full Story

December 19, 2004
Will These Choices Translate?
Re-creating the Merion installation just as it was poses some interesting problems. For instance, how will the new Barnes accommodate the famous The Dance mural by Henri Matisse - three large lunettes installed over two-story-high windows in the main first-floor gallery? Will architects have to provide false windows lit from behind?
Full Story

March 10, 2003
Wealth of art, but poor foundation; The Barnes fails while peers thrive
The Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, the Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Frick Collection in New York are world-renowned. Each is distinctive and compelling in a way that reflects the personality and taste of its founder.

Full Story


May 4, 2003 
Relocation makes sense, but it would be wrong
 The plight of the world-renowned Barnes Foundation reminds me of the memorable comment attributed to an American officer during the Vietnam War that, in order to save a village, U.S. forces had to destroy it.
Full Story

June 1, 2003
Story is told on Barnes' great fight
John Anderson, author of Art Held Hostage, vividly recalls his first encounter with Richard H. Glanton, controversial former president of the Barnes Foundation.
Full Story


The Philadelphia Inquirer
January 18, 2004

The Barnes should stay put; The foundation hasn't justified a move to the Parkway, and should sell art to raise money.
by Edward J. Sozanski

I wouldn't blame Judge Stanley Ott if he envied King Solomon.

Determining a baby's real mother was child's play. Ott, president judge of Montgomery County Orphans' Court, is trying to figure out how to save the Barnes Foundation from financial collapse while preserving the integrity of the indenture under which it operates.

At a hearing last month on their petition to move the foundation's art collection, Barnes officials shifted the responsibility for staving off bankruptcy, a responsibility they have failed, onto Ott's shoulders.

The Barnes trustees want to move from Merion to Center City, preferably to a site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Conventional wisdom holds that this would be a splendid development for the city and the foundation, a classic "win-win" situation.

Yet this is a dubious assumption, based not on clear-headed research but on blind faith. It's a $150 million roll of the dice - $100 million to move, $50 million for an endowment - by the principal backers of this scheme, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lenfest and Annenberg Foundations.

And it's not so much about saving the Barnes as about saving the city.

Would putting the Barnes on the Parkway accomplish either goal? On its face, the idea seems like a natural, but it's full of imponderables.

The Barnes might not be such a hot ticket if it becomes a more crowded, more conventional museum. The location - an intimidating, commuter-congested boulevard that discourages pedestrians - could be a liability.

The trustees tried to persuade Ott to approve their request by invoking the "orphan defense." Remember the old joke about the boy who kills his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he's an orphan?

Imprudent actions and benign neglect by several generations of Barnes trustees have pushed the foundation to the brink of insolvency. Now the current board importunes (or threatens) Ott: Let us move, or we go out of business.

That brutal ultimatum only compounds the judge's dilemma. His court is supposed to safeguard the intentions of the man who established the foundation, Albert C. Barnes.

Yet if Ott grants the petition wholly or even in substantial part, he will inevitably fracture Barnes' legacy seriously, perhaps fatally. After that, anything goes.

Only one proposed change, enlarging the board of trustees from five to 15 members, seems potentially beneficial. A larger board might find a seat or two for people knowledgeable about art and art education.

Ott, much to his credit, examined the petition skeptically. His questions pointed up what a speculative and nebulous "solution" this plan is.

For instance, the judge asked, how will the financially beleaguered foundation support three facilities - Parkway, Merion, and its 137-acre property in Chester County - when it can't manage two now?

The Barnes trustees couldn't answer that question satisfactorily. They and their sponsors obviously believe that a Barnes on the Parkway, open longer hours, easily accessible to tour buses, will generate enough revenue to make this improbable notion feasible.

Has the Barnes actually studied the feasibility of such a move? inquired Ott. No, said Bernard Watson, president of the Barnes board; the foundation couldn't afford such an effort. That's an absurd answer, given the tectonic magnitude of the proposed change. Why hasn't one of the sponsor foundations funded such a study?

The overriding vision for the Parkway foresees development of a "museum mile" that would include not only the Barnes but an Alexander Calder museum, which is having some trouble getting off the ground. Yet this vision, too, lacks a solid, empirical base. For instance: How many visitors would a Calder museum draw? How many people have even heard of Calder, one of America's foremost sculptors, these days?

The city already has a concentration of museums on or near the Parkway - besides the Art Museum and the Rodin Museum, they include the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and, two blocks off the Parkway, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

If a museum ghetto is supposed to generate exceptional tourist appeal, why don't we see even the slightest evidence of such a phenomenon now?

The Barnes collection might be a strong draw initially, but visitorship is bound to slack off because of a simple truth: Museums that do not mount special exhibitions don't consistently attract lines around the block.

For instance, over the last three years, the Rodin Museum has logged an average of 55,450 visitors. This is slightly less than the Barnes attendance now in Merion. The comparable average at the Pennsylvania Academy, one of the country's major collections of American art, is about 69,000.

The Art Museum recorded 800,000 annual visitors over the last three years, but that figure was inflated by three popular special exhibitions - for Thomas Eakins (100,000), Edgar Degas (220,000), and Vincent van Gogh (318,000).

The Parkway presents another handicap: 10 lanes of continuous traffic, especially formidable at rush hours. One needs to be an Olympic-class sprinter to cross it, especially at Eakins Oval and Logan Square.

There isn't much parking on or near the Parkway, or any commercial establishments - shops, restaurants, etc. - that would provide walk-in traffic for the museums.

Ott should consider these factors carefully as he wrestles with his ruling, but in the end he's still up against the orphan defense.

He can't let the Barnes perish, and he must also contend with two situations, over which he hasn't any control, that militate against staying put.

First: Potential donors who might help the Barnes stay in Merion apparently just don't trust the Barnes board to manage money wisely. Otherwise, the foundation's fund-raising toward that end would have been more successful.

Second: All the powers on earth, from the Pew Foundation to the Art Museum to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, want the Barnes to move. Big money and civic power are solidly behind this scheme. As noted, the idea enjoys strong intuitive appeal.

Besides a handful of starry-eyed art critics, the only people opposed to relocation are the Barnes students.

They possess an insight that Ott should take into consideration. Because of the intimacy they develop over a year or two of study, they, more than anyone except the foundation's staff, come to appreciate fully the unique spirit of the place, a spirit that will be severely compromised, if not destroyed, by a move.

I sincerely doubt that any trustee, past or present, connects or has connected with the institution at this level.

So how does Ott rescue virtue from expediency? Ironically, former Barnes board president Richard Glanton offered the most logical answer years ago. Sell 10 or a dozen third-level stored Renoirs, which the Barnes owns in abundance - or as many as it takes to raise a $50 million endowment, which would keep the Barnes in Merion.

Outrageous? Hardly. Museums sell art all the time to buy other art. If a museum can ethically sell to "upgrade" its collection, why can't it sell to save its life?

The Barnes doesn't need 180 Renoirs to carry out its educational mission; it could easily manage with 150, or even 100.

It has been suggested that the Barnes might sell nonart items (it has already sold Mrs. Barnes' grand piano) or perhaps let go of Ker-Feal, Albert Barnes' former country property in Chester County.

The Barnes doesn't need all of Ker-Feal's 137 acres; it could make do with perhaps 10 and the house, which contains a collection of ceramics, furniture, and other American folk crafts.

However, this kind of selling isn't likely to raise as much money as the foundation needs to establish a sustaining endowment. To stabilize its finances, the Barnes needs to raise $50 million in a hurry. Paintings are the obvious remedy.

Since the trustees evidently don't have a Plan B, Ott might insist on selling as the least injurious and least complicated alternative to relocation. He might conclude that spending $150 million to solve a $50 million problem doesn't make sense.

Memo to Judge Ott: Let them sell some paintings, but one time only. Then, if the trustees run the Barnes into the ground a second time, sentence them to eternal community service - Center City or Merion, wherever they prefer.



The Philadelphia Inquirer
May 16, 2004

School or museum, Barnes doesn't have a moving case
by Edward J. Sozanski

About a year ago, author John Anderson made a few headlines with his book Art Held Hostage, which recounts the controversy over philosophy and policy that has plagued the Barnes Foundation for 15 years.

In December last year, Transaction Publishers of New Brunswick, N.J., released another Barnes book that raised nary an eyebrow. You're not likely to find it in any local bookstore, but you can order it.

Art, Education, & African-American Cultureby Mary Ann Meyers ($49.95) is the most detailed biography of Albert Coombs Barnes and history of his foundation to date.

Meyers, the senior fellow at the John Templeton Foundation in Radnor, has written a chronicle in the strictest sense, a historical record of events in the order in which they occurred.

She quotes letters to and from Albert Barnes extensively, to the point where her narrative periodically drags. (Frequent spelling errors further impede the flow.) Yet the Barnes saga remains compelling, so be patient and press through to the end.

Meyers' consistently dispassionate tone has a curious effect: It throws into high relief the passion and the contentious conflict that have characterized Barnes affairs since Lincoln University appointees became a majority on the foundation's board 15 years ago.

As I read, I began to compensate for the missing drama by imagining the Barnes history as a Verdi opera in which the plot is driven by multiple human failings - arrogance, betrayal, rivalry, jealousy, calumny and deceit.

The author's scholarly rectitude precludes her taking sides, especially on the two unresolved questions at the heart of the continuing Barnes imbroglio, issues that for the most part have been swept under the rug, especially by the successive Barnes administrations.

These are questions that Judge Stanley Ott of Montgomery County Orphans' Court, who will decide the foundation's future, must resolve satisfactorily. A careful reading of Meyers' book suggests what the answers should be.

First, is the Barnes Foundation a school with public gallery hours, or a museum that operates a school? If it still functions primarily as a school, should it become a museum? An enormous philosophical gulf separates these options. The distinction is not just historical and legal, but moral.

Second, should the educational program developed by Albert Barnes with philosopher John Dewey be preserved? Is it still pedagogically useful? If not, what, if anything, should replace it?

I presume that Judge Ott has been considering these issues since last December's hearing on a petition by the foundation's trustees to move the art collection to Center City.

I didn't attend that hearing, but I haven't found much evidence that these two fundamental points received a proper airing. And no wonder, because full disclosure would significantly weaken the foundation's argument that it must relocate.

Ever since trustees appointed by Lincoln University gained control of the foundation's board, the debate on how the Barnes should operate now and in the future has been skewed, either through ignorance or deliberately. The public, the media and the art community have long perceived the foundation to be a museum. Former board president Richard Glanton initiated this perceptual shift, and it has been continued by successive regimes.

On the other hand, the foundation's indenture of trust, which governs its operation, is quite specific that it's a school. Lower Merion Township agrees, because residential zoning along Latches Lane allows schools but not museums.

The township's position relates to that zoning regulation, but it's somewhat arbitrary because it's based on a visitor limit negotiated with the foundation.

The Barnes is allowed to admit up to 1,200 visitors weekly without, in the township's eyes, becoming a museum. This legalistic compromise hardly resolves the ambiguity over the foundation's core identity.

If Judge Ott decides that the foundation must remain a school, spending $100 million to move it to Benjamin Franklin Parkway is patently preposterous. If he allows it to recast itself as a museum, moving is at least a debatable proposition.

Yet in one sense, what Judge Ott rules doesn't matter. Over the last 15 years, actions and statements by Barnes officials have stacked the deck to make moving appear to be not only necessary but desirable. Practically speaking, the indenture of trust that governs its operation is already seriously, perhaps fatally, weakened.

Meyers' explication of how Barnes and Dewey developed the foundation's art-appreciation curriculum reminds readers that this method served thousands of students well for nearly 65 years, which is why alumni are so passionately vocal about preserving it.

Alumni are convinced that executive director Kimberly Camp has altered the founder's two-year curriculum in at least two ways, by changing the content of the program's first year and by instituting tours for elementary through high school students who are not enrolled in the Barnes program.

Second-year classes are still conducted by two longtime teachers who learned the Barnes method from Violette de Mazia, the founder's protégé and literary collaborator. Both Barton Church and Harry Sefarbi have taught at the foundation for more than 50 years, but they won't teach forever. Alumni believe that more curriculum changes are inevitable after they're gone.

The continuance of the second-year "traditions" course allows Barnes officials to contend that tradition has not been compromised. Still, they must perform an awkward but delicate balancing act to maintain the fiction.

They have been successful in this so far, and they need to be, because Judge Ott must be persuaded that whatever exceptions to the indenture he might grant are consistent with that document in spirit as well as law.

His task is complicated by the fact that the foundation has already moved from a strict interpretation of Albert Barnes' recipe for teaching people how to look at art.

It's even possible that if the foundation is allowed to move, the educational component will be changed further or diminished to the point of extinction. After all, the foundation hasn't indicated that it wants to move to improve its stature as a school; it wants to attract more visitors to the gallery.

If Judge Ott allows the move, he will shatter the indenture. He will be conceding that the historical foundation is finished, and a new order is in place. The ramifications of this, beyond the move, are scary.

The merits of this new regime can't be evaluated because neither Camp nor the board has acknowledged that such a transformation is taking place. In fact, the director insists that she has "restored" the foundation's curriculum to the founder's original template. She has told people that after Barnes died de Mazia adopted new teaching methods that she and her staff have discarded.

It might well be that the Barnes curriculum could be improved or that more gallery visitors could be accommodated without a move, and that both these changes could be beneficial. Yet with the petition to move focused on impending financial catastrophe, it seems evident that Camp and her board aren't interested in incremental change for the Merion program.

Despite what Judge Ott might have been told last December, the future of the Barnes is not really about money (the foundations supporting the move have plenty of that), or parking (a truly irrelevant issue) or racism (Barnes neighbors were calumnized for insisting that the foundation obey township zoning laws).

It's about responsible governance, which Judge Ott unfortunately can't mandate, and about preserving a unique, fascinating and historically significant American institution.

The Barnes Foundation should be saved not just because of its teaching philosophy - one needn't accept it unreservedly to admire how it has engaged students in the act of looking at art - but because, as a delightful anachronism, it's a refuge from more conventional museum culture.

For that reason, the foundation's Merion gallery deserves to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Anyone can nominate the gallery, and someone should. However, the Barnes can't be listed unless the foundation's board agrees. And that's a moral and procedural dilemma Camp and the trustees might not want to face.


The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 14, 2004

It can move, but it won't be the Barnes anymore;
Ripped from its context, it will be just another "attraction" on Philadelphia's cultural midway.
by Edward J. Sozanski

When Judge Stanley Ott ruled yesterday that the Barnes Foundation could move its incomparable art collection from Lower Merion to Center City, the phrase sic transit gloria mundi popped into my head.

Thus passes the glory of the world. The uniquely idiosyncratic art school and gallery that had been one of the wonders of the American cultural landscape since the mid-1920s has been ruled officially dead.

Whatever replaces it somewhere along Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be something different, perhaps better, but most likely not.

Like the London Bridge that an American developer moved to the Arizona desert, the new Barnes will be a simulacrum at best, ripped from its historical context and set down where it will become just another "attraction" on Philadelphia's developing cultural midway.

The Barnes will surrender its ineffable genius locus and the atmosphere of seclusion and contemplation that characterizes the art and horticultural school created by Albert C. Barnes. It will no longer be a refuge from art-world commercialism, but an intrinsic part of it.

It isn't surprising that Ott would enable this drastic transformation. The Barnes trustees skillfully deployed the "orphan defense." Over the last 15 years, through ignorance, indifference, incompetence and arrogance, they ran the institution into the ground financially.

Then they begged Montgomery County Orphans' Court, of which Ott is president judge, for mercy. Yesterday, inevitably, he granted it.

The opinion issued by Ott yesterday is instructive for what it omits. The judge's discussion of court testimony and his rationale for granting the petition to move the Barnes collection is framed almost exclusively in financial terms.

What is the market value of the Barnes property in Chester County? How much would "non-gallery" art - paintings and objects not installed in the Merion gallery building - bring at auction?

Can the Barnes afford to operate three "campuses" - the new one in Center City; the original Merion facility (where the horticulture program would remain); and Ker-Feal, the Chester County house and grounds?

Ott satisfied himself that the Barnes could, indeed, run three venues - an odd conclusion, given that since trustees nominated by Lincoln University assumed control in 1989, the board hasn't been able to run one venue competently.

He also decided that selling assets - Ker-Feal and "non-gallery" art - couldn't begin to arrest the foundation's gradual slide into insolvency.

Could the new Center City facility be constructed within the proposed $100 million budget? Of course it could, even though no one knows for sure where this construction would take place. (The $150 million that foundations have offered to raise would include a $50 million endowment.)

In short, Ott swallowed a combination sob story and fairy tale: Once the Barnes moves, visitors will pour in by the tens of thousands and prosperity will heal all wounds.

It seems evident from the testimony on which Ott based his decision that the Barnes board didn't break a sweat investigating other options. Members could have balanced their accounts by selling one important painting. And they could have sold that painting without violating professional ethics, because legally and historically the Barnes is a school, not a museum.

Or it was until yesterday. By turning the Barnes indenture inside out, Ott also, in a pen stroke, transformed the foundation into a museum. That's what the people who run it and the Pew Charitable Trusts, prime bankroller for this radical restructuring, want it to be.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Free Library all rejoice in such an outcome as well. The synergy that Barnes on the Parkway could create is a dream come true for them.

And the Barnes school? It's barely mentioned in Ott's opinion. Of course the school will continue, Barnes director Kimberly Camp has said - while the judge was deliberating, would she dare say anything else?

Yet it's hard to imagine that, if it survives in some form, the school will be anything more than a vestigial appendage to the new tourist mecca, analogous to the old-time saloon "free lunch."

These developments not only betray the Barnes legacy, which was a unique way of teaching art appreciation, they destroy, or at the least seriously compromise, a unique creation by a collector and educator - don't overlook that part - who was a cultural phenomenon.

By eviscerating the Barnes governing document, Ott's decision makes the relocation proposal sound ridiculous in some of its particulars.

For instance, why bother to replicate down to the last light switch the proportions and details of the Merion gallery in Center City? A replica doesn't make sense when the original exists, and in splendid condition.

The new Barnes is going to be a tourist museum, so why not drop this fatuous homage to a tradition that has been rejected in practice and build something appropriate to whatever site is chosen?

By the same token, why maintain the school when the Barnes administration, as it has demonstrated, no longer believes in it?

The new "three-campus" Barnes might make more money from tourism, but, as court testimony indicated, it will also have to contend with increased running costs. It will need more staff; overhead, maintenance and security costs will go up (by how much isn't clear).

This means that the whole enterprise is a gamble, especially given the record of the current Barnes administration. I wouldn't be surprised to see the trustees back in court eventually, begging for even more latitude in governance.

The relocation isn't going to happen this year or next, so there's still plenty of time to savor the Barnes in an uncorrupted state before it becomes Vegas-ized. That experience, like visiting Venice, is incomparable. So visit Venice before it sinks, and see the Barnes before it moves.


The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 19, 2004

Perfect copy may not be perfect
By Edward J. Sozanski

The board that couldn't think straight has struck again.

The trustees of the Barnes Foundation petitioned Judge Stanley R. Ott of Montgomery County Orphans' Court to let them move the foundation's astonishing art collection to Center City.

They needed to do this, the trustees argued, because the foundation faced financial insolvency in Merion. Proximity to the city's tourist population would make available a larger potential source of revenue.

To no one's surprise, Ott bought the argument. The Barnes is moving to a site on the Parkway between the Free Library and the Rodin Museum. The cultural synergy of the Rodin, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and planned Calder Museum nearby would be remarkable.

Ott's decision seems to save the day, but on closer examination one wonders about lost opportunity. In Judge Ott's court, the board promised to re-create the Barnes galleries exactly in the new location, including the display of the distinctive ensembles of paintings alongside decorative objects that make the Barnes so provocatively different from other museums.

Ott's approval of the petition commits the foundation to this course, according to Barnes executive director Kimberly Camp. This in itself is problematic, because there are other options. But now the narrative becomes even stranger.

The new Barnes building is expected to be considerably larger than the current one in Merion. So the replicated galleries will be, in essence, a small box inside a large one.

Furthermore, Camp confirms, the new Barnes will admit only 100 visitors into the gallery at one time, by timed tickets, exactly as in Merion. Attendance will increase, perhaps to a projected 180,000 because the Parkway Barnes will be open more hours, more days a week. But expenses, especially overhead, also will increase.

If the replicated galleries are going to be the same size and if entrance is going to be restricted, as it is now, one wonders if the expected gain is great enough to be worth the effort.

The foundation's Merion galleries are much too small for large crowds; the 100-visitor limit acknowledges that. So why replicate the problem as part of the solution?

We put aside here how the Barnes will use the additional space that will be built on the Parkway. (The foundation is not committed to copying the Merion building in toto, just its interior.)

Some probably will be taken up by classrooms, because the foundation is, and says it's committed to remaining, a school. A large shop, a cafe and perhaps an auditorium are the likely possibilities. But the decision, made when the petition was submitted, to reproduce the galleries exactly is the most troublesome issue.

It forecloses any attempt by the board to expand and enrich the foundation's educational program. It indicates that the board didn't adequately consider all the ramifications of moving. It further confirms that the trustees continue to fumble their responsibilities to the remarkable legacy of the founder, Albert C. Barnes.

Replicating the Merion installation is not only the easiest option for the new Barnes, it's the one most people following this saga probably expect. But it's not the only option.

Albert Barnes founded his eponymous foundation in 1922 as, in his words, an educational experiment. He recognized the possibility that the noble experiment might fail. In one sense it has: The planned move destroys the sense of the foundation as a collection rooted to its historical site and to a particular era in American history.

Judge Ott's decision opens a new chapter in the sometimes tumultuous story of this unique American institution. It should have created an opportunity for some imaginative thinking about whether the Barnes could improve the way it teaches art appreciation and, most important, preserve the values that have been its philosophical anchor for more than 80 years.

Re-creating all the wall ensembles - the heart of an analytical teaching method that identifies compositional similarities of shape, line, color and space in paintings and decorative objects - doesn't seem to be the only way to do this.

It might eventually turn out to be the best way, but the board should have given itself the flexibility to consider other schemes.

For instance, the Merion hanging, devised by Barnes to illustrate the analytical method just described, does not give sufficient attention to individual artists, or to particular masterpieces among a vast collection that contains a lot of mediocre pictures.

These weaknesses could be addressed by emphasizing one of the collection's unique aspects, one that speaks directly to Albert Barnes' taste, by highlighting the three artists who dominated his thinking - Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse.

The foundation owns enough paintings to stock a small museum devoted to each artist. These incomparable concentrations could become the basis of a three-cornered installation that could easily retain some or many of the ensembles, which would allow the traditional Barnes curriculum to continue. Once the move is made, you don't need all the dozens and dozens of original walls in order to teach.

Each core group could be enhanced by other artists in the respective cohorts - Renoir by Claude Monet and other impressionists; Cezanne by Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat and other postimpressionists; and Matisse by Pablo Picasso and other early modernists.

Such an arrangement not only would honor the founder's achievement in a different way, it should prove to be a magnificent visitor magnet.

Absent their legal commitment, Camp and the board might also have considered whether the entire collection had to move. Some paintings, sculptures and decorative arts might remain in Merion, which will continue to house the foundation's horticulture program. Otherwise, this splendid suite of galleries would be reduced to mere office space.

Even within the constraints of their promise, the board should correct one other of Merion's deficiencies. It should create a gallery, or suite of galleries, devoted to Barnes' life, his collecting, and especially to the educational philosophy embodied in the art collection.

Permission to move will produce some positive results. If the expected legion of art-hungry citizens and cultural tourists actually materializes, more people than might have traveled to Merion will get to see the Barnes collection. It might even attract more students to the school, which the foundation has vowed to continue.

Yet the emerging shape of this momentous event suggests that ultimately the board made a speculative and potentially damaging move.

It traded a unique art school and public gallery integrated into a beautiful suburban aboretum - itself a splendid and timeless work of art - for a simulacrum in a box on a bustling urban plot. The choice might eventually pay off financially, but aesthetically - and that's what the Barnes teaches, aesthetics - it's appalling.



The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 19, 2004

Will These Choices Translate?
By Edward J. Sozanski

Re-creating the Merion installation just as it was poses some interesting problems. For instance, how will the new Barnes accommodate the famous The Dance mural by Henri Matisse - three large lunettes installed over two-story-high windows in the main first-floor gallery? Will architects have to provide false windows lit from behind?

And what will they do about Matisse's The Joy of Life, a painting that hangs, poorly lit, in the stairwell to the second floor? Will the new Barnes relegate this icon of modern art to an analogous dim perch on the Parkway?



The Philadelphia Inquirer
March 10, 2003 

Wealth of art, but poor foundation;
The Barnes fails while peers thrive
Edward J. Sozanski

Millionaire art collectors Albert C. Barnes, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Henry Clay Frick had this in common: Each formed a world-class collection that subsequently became a public museum.

The Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, the Gardner Museum in Boston, and the Frick Collection in New York are world-renowned. Each is distinctive and compelling in a way that reflects the personality and taste of its founder.

But today, two of these legacies are flourishing, while the Barnes, nearest and dearest to Philadelphia, is staggering.

The Gardner and the Frick, established with enlightened and public-spirited philanthropy, did not have their founder trying to administer them from the grave, as the Barnes did. And those museums have proved better at recognizing the need to adapt before crisis occurs.


Because of the size of their boards - an art museum's prime generator of gifts and bequests - the Gardner (19 trustees) and the Frick (11) have been much more successful in fund-raising than has the Barnes (5).

Gardner and Frick trustees are free to manage their endowments as they see fit, and have increased them substantially. Until 1997, Barnes trustees were legally limited to government bonds and railroad securities. The endowment not only did not grow, it shrank to zero. Now the Barnes needs help to cover its operating costs.

The Gardner and the Frick have developed special programs, especially in music, to broaden their audiences. Both mount special exhibitions. The Barnes remains primarily a school whose galleries are open only three days a week.

The Gardner and the Frick are situated in the heart of cities, convenient to transportation and other museums. The Barnes is in a suburb, where access and parking are limited.

Albert Barnes either did not foresee that his collection might eventually operate as a museum, or he determined to preclude such an eventuality.

Whether the Barnes can turn itself around depends on relief from the straitjacket of custodial restrictions bequeathed by its founder and on how much it is willing to change.


The Gardner Museum, celebrating its centennial this year, is similar to the Barnes in the way it operates. It confronted and surmounted a survival crisis in the 1980s.

Isabella Stewart Gardner was a wealthy Boston matron who began to buy art in the early 1890s. The museum she created is a delightful fusion of art, architecture and horticulture - another convergence with the Barnes Foundation.

Gardner put together a select collection of more than 2,500 Old Master and 19th-century paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, rare books, and other decorative arts.

Like the Barnes, the Gardner Museum is not allowed to alter the installations of its galleries, which Gardner fixed before she died in 1924. As in Merion, the collection is fixed in time - no additions or deletions.

(In 1990, thieves stole five paintings, including a Vermeer and two Rembrandts; six works on paper; and decorative objects from the museum. None has been recovered, and the frames from which they were cut remain in place.)

Special as it is, the Gardner's collection shares star billing with its building, which re-creates a 15th-century Venetian palazzo.

The four-story, skylit interior courtyard, verdant year-round with flowers, palm trees and even grass, gives the museum an incomparable ambience. Many people visit just to experience its serene beauty and mood of refuge within the bustling city.

But even this miniature garden of earthly delights was not enough to keep the Gardner's attendance from slipping.

By the 1980s, director Anne Hawley recalled, the board decided that it had to reinvigorate the museum by reinventing itself.

By bringing in community and civic leaders, the board increased its membership to 19. The new members were expected to generate money, and they did, Hawley said. "If they hadn't done that, we would be in trouble now."

Hawley said the Gardner now raises more than $3 million annually from grants and gifts, supplemented by nearly $1.6 million in earned income.

"We're in excellent shape financially and otherwise," she said. "We've always had a balanced budget. Our next move is to run an endowment drive that will support our special programs."

It is those special programs that have kept the Gardner fresh. The museum inaugurated a Sunday concert series as far back as 1927. Last year, it introduced a program called "Saturdays at the Gardner" that involves family activities, performance pieces, lectures and jazz concerts.


While the Gardner centennial demonstrates that legacy museums can cope successfully with evolutionary pressures, the Frick's experience illuminates the degree to which a collection's prosperity depends on its founder's vision.

The Frick's collection is similar in character to the Gardner's - both reflect the taste of wealthy 19th-century art patrons - but at 1,100 objects it is much smaller.

Housed in Henry Clay Frick's former mansion overlooking Central Park, the museum is a jewel box of Old Master paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Velzquez and others.

The Frick's legacy is a bit looser than that of the Barnes. Art that the founder acquired cannot be sold or lent; otherwise, the trustees are free to add to the collection, as they have done since Frick died.

As a result, the collection is 50 percent larger today than when Frick died in 1919.

This liberal policy allows the Frick to mount regular exhibitions of art from outside the collection. The museum is also free to move things around within the building, although, as deputy director Robert Goldsmith explained, "This is a historic house, and we want to maintain a sense of how it looked."

Like the Gardner, the Frick offers regular musical programs that, like the exhibitions, extend its public reach and generate income. It also has a shop that generates $1 million in annual sales.


The Barnes Foundation has asked Montgomery County Orphans' Court for permission to move its inestimable art collection, famous for its impressionist, postimpressionist and early modern paintings, from Lower Merion to Center City, where it could attract larger audiences.

The Barnes is trying to adapt to modern times in other ways. It wants to enlarge its board of trustees to 15 members, which the court must approve, and is trying to generate more income through merchandising.

However, the Barnes is hemmed in not only by its financial crisis but also by legal caps on the number of days it can be open and on the number of visitors weekly (1,200). If the Barnes stays in Lower Merion, any changes to these restrictions must be granted by Orphans' Court, as well.

Of its annual budget, now $4.5 million, the Barnes can cover only about $2.8 million with income from grants and gifts, shop sales, admission fees from 56,000 annual visitors, and tuition for its art and horticulture classes.

Subsidies from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lenfest and Annenberg Foundations that began in September will keep this year's budget balanced.

Director Kimberly Camp says she still hopes that a financial "angel" will materialize to stave off crisis. But a fairy godmother doesn't seem likely.

Would moving the collection to Center City liberate the Barnes financially, or would it merely transform the Barnes into a different institution, one more focused on tourism than on art education?

Leo Steinberg, a noted art historian who taught for 16 years at the University of Pennsylvania, does not believe that moving to Center City would help the Barnes much, if at all.

"Museum culture has changed," Steinberg said. "When I was growing up in London in the 1930s, everyone took it for granted that you visit and revisit a museum to see the collection. Now you have to have something to advertise" - meaning special exhibitions.

Still, Steinberg observed that a Barnes collection on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway would create a marvelous conjunction with the early-20th-century collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He thinks legacy collections like the Barnes, the Gardner and the Frick are worth preserving, "but whether they can be preserved in an economy like ours, where you have to pare down and cut, is a problem. The Barnes should be sustained, but out of what funds?"

Despite Steinberg's gloomy prediction, Barnes director Camp remains optimistic that her institution will pull out of its nosedive.

"We hang on to every possible penny. Last year our expenses were 30 percent below expectations," she said. "We have reduced a $3 million deficit to $400,000 in three years."

"I still think the guardian-angel route is the key," she said. "The collection must be protected and preserved, but it's the hardest thing to raise money for."

Contact art critic Edward J. Sozanski at 215-854-5595 or

The Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pa. started with an endowment in 1922 of $6 million.

Now the fund is at zero.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston started with an endowment in 1900 of $3.7 million. Now the fund is $59 million.

The Frick Collection in New York City started with an endowment in 1919 of $15 million.

Now the fund is $190 million.


The Philadelphia Inquirer
May 4, 2003 

Relocation makes sense, but it would be wrong
by Edward J. Sozanski

The plight of the world-renowned Barnes Foundation reminds me of the memorable comment attributed to an American officer during the Vietnam War that, in order to save a village, U.S. forces had to destroy it.

Moving the Barnes art collection to a not-yet-selected site in Center City, as its board of trustees has proposed, is supposed to save the foundation from financial collapse. If the plan passes legal muster, it might possibly accomplish that goal.

Yet even if it does, the Barnes will not be "saved." It will be transformed into a different institution, a mass-market tourist attraction that will primarily benefit the city and the other cultural institutions along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway - the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, the Franklin Institute, and the Academy of Natural Sciences - that long to share the Barnes' star quality.

The collection might survive the eight-mile trip from Merion to the Parkway intact, but the ineffable spirit of the Barnes, the quality that makes it a special place, will not. That would be a tragedy, pure and simple.

Under the plan announced last fall, the foundation will be rent in two. The multitude of Renoirs, Cézannes, Matisses and Picassos, the potential moneymakers, will relocate to Touristville, but the 12-acre arboretum and its attendant horticulture program will stay put on North Latches Lane.

This might not seem like such a big deal, but in fact these two halves of the Barnes are complementary. They produce a synergy that contributes to the foundation's distinctive and seductive genius loci - spirit of place.

Perhaps you've never heard that term or, if you have, don't believe in it. But genius loci is real; it's what makes your house feel like "home." And the Barnes Foundation has been marinating in it for eight decades.

The personality of founder Albert Coombs Barnes pervades every square foot of the gallery building. His wife, Laura, put her stamp on the arboretum.

Albert Barnes was not only a complex and combative person, he was in his own way an imaginative creator. His foundation is a work of art. Because its program in art embodies the ideas of philosopher John Dewey, it also represents a significant chapter in American educational history.

The foundation's architectural legacy adds another savory ingredient to its genius loci. Paul Cret's French-Renaissance-style gallery building, ornamented by modernist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, establishes the character of the site.

Like the art collection, Cret's design is an evocative period piece, a visual anchor to the time when Barnes set out to establish a program of art education.

The building, the arboretum and the collection, installed like a giant, purposeful mosaic in the foundation's 23 domestically-scaled rooms, generate a magical feeling of refuge.

All art institutions work this way to a certain degree, but at the Barnes the atmosphere is particularly intense. The frenetic bustle of modern life evaporates the moment one walks or drives through the front gate.

It takes multiple visits to appreciate this marvelous quality, which is why Barnes students appear to be most sensitive to it, and why most resist any initiative to alter it.

The restrictions on visitors and traffic under which the foundation is forced by township zoning regulations to operate are actually virtues, in one sense, because they enhance the unique experience the place offers.

The Barnes is small, quiet and contemplative. No one has persuasively argued that a Barnes on the Parkway could ever be.

In fact, there is only one plausible rationale for relocating the collection - money. Supporters of the petition to Montgomery County Orphans' Court, which must approve any change in the foundation's operating rules, cite the financial benefits to the city of Philadelphia.

These boil down to more hotel nights, more restaurant reservations, and more taxi fares. But why should the foundation, which is primarily a school, be obliged to subsidize the city's tourist industry?

If the collection moves, the school must also move, because the collection is the primary teaching tool. Would the school survive such a transition? I think not. Inevitably the museum activity would overwhelm the educational function. After all, the foundation doesn't want to move in order to serve its students, but rather to service museumgoers.

Why allow a few hundred students to tie up a priceless art collection when tens of thousands of art-lovers purportedly lust to see it?

This may sound far-fetched, but consider that several rich and influential foundations are facilitating this relocation. The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lenfest Foundation, and the Annenberg Foundation are helping the Barnes trustees raise the estimated $150 million needed to effect the move.

A portion of this sum would establish an endowment that would allow the foundation to support itself. The Barnes had a modest endowment once, but spent it.

The big foundations are also covering the foundation's operating deficits while the relocation petition moves through the court system.

At last report, these foundations had raised more than half the money needed. This is more than the Barnes would require to stabilize itself financially over the long term in Merion.

In effect, the foundations are executing a hostile takeover by offering the Barnes trustees a deal they can't refuse - big money to move, no money otherwise.

Genius loci aside, the Barnes doesn't need to move. Profits from the international tour of masterpiece paintings that began 10 years ago enabled the foundation to refurbish and repair its 1925 gallery building.

It's now perfectly sound and historically significant, so why abandon it? The Barnes even has a parking lot now. It accommodates only about 50 cars, and visitors pay for the privilege, but hey, can you park at the Louvre? At the Museum of Modern Art?

The canard that the Barnes must move because it's remote and inaccessible, and because it lacks sufficient parking, needs to be permanently retired.

The foundation is no farther from Center City than Chestnut Hill. It's no more than 20 minutes by car on the expressway - and you can park in the neighborhood if you're willing to walk five minutes.

It's also readily accessible by the Route 44 bus, which drops visitors less than five minutes from the gate, and a bit less so by the R-5 SEPTA train. As a world-class destination, the Barnes is worth a bit of planning and effort to reach.

The foundation is severely hobbled by Lower Merion Township, which, under zoning laws, restricts visitors to 400 a day, three days per week - and unreasonably counts students from its own public schools against that number.

Yet moving the institution seems like an excessively drastic response to this limitation. When classes are running, the foundation could accept visitors on a fourth weekday - an additional 20,000 a year that would certainly boost revenue.

Is it truly impossible that the township wouldn't ease up a bit if the issue were civilly negotiated? Casual observation suggests that the foundation does not generate a lot of local traffic, not nearly as much, for instance, as the Episcopal Academy next door.

The decision to move also appears to ignore the fact that under director Kimberly Camp, the Barnes is gradually moving away from the threat of insolvency that prompted the plan to relocate.

Since late 1998, when she arrived in Merion, Camp has reduced a deficit of $3.313 million to about $800,000 last year. The operating budget still runs in the red about $2 million a year, but that shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. As the subsidizing foundations have already demonstrated, money is available for worthy causes.

Equally important, Camp rectified a long-standing deficiency by assembling the foundation's first professional staff, creating a number of new managerial positions in the process. (She is, in fact, the Barnes' first professional director.) Camp also inaugurated a program to fully assess the foundation's extensive collection, and solicited the foundation grants to support it.

Professional management has invigorated the Barnes over the last four years. Earned income has increased, and cooperative educational programs have been established with Lower Merion Township and one Philadelphia elementary school. Similar programs with area colleges and universities are being explored.

OK, some may rejoin, the Barnes has become professionalized, and perhaps it could survive in Merion while remaining faithful to its traditional mission if Camp's hoped-for financial "angel" turned up. But doesn't moving to Center City just make sense?

Robert Hass, poet laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, can answer that. In a new book about the Great Lakes, author Jerry Dennis asked Hass how he felt about drilling for gas and oil in the lakes.

Hass opined that the idea made sense in several ways. "But something can make sense and still be wrong," he said. "If history has taught us anything, it's that there is never a shortage of practical, hardheaded people making one wrong decision after another because it makes sense."

Relocating the Barnes might make sense, especially to the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and the Art Museum, but it would be wrong. Not just wrong, but tragic.

However, I'm presuming that the move will likely happen, because there's too much money at stake on both sides of the table. If it does, I expect that the Barnes will become the punch line of an old joke: "The operation was successful, but the patient died."


The Philadelphia Inquirer
June 1, 2003

Story is told on Barnes' great fight
by Edward J. Sozanski

John Anderson, author of Art Held Hostage, vividly recalls his first encounter with Richard H. Glanton, controversial former president of the Barnes Foundation.

The date was March 25, 1998. Anderson, a former University of Pennsylvania English professor who was then deputy editor of the American Lawyer magazine, was in Philadelphia working on a story.

"I was having breakfast at a hotel with a former student who had become a lawyer," Anderson recalled in a telephone interview last week.

"Richard Glanton came into the restaurant, looking very dapper and jaunty. He was always extremely well-attired. And my friend pointed to him and said, 'There's . . . Glanton. We're suing him.' "

Anderson did not meet Glanton then - that would come later. However, he learned that the suit in question involved a dispute with Lower Merion neighbors of the Barnes Foundation over a proposal to construct a parking lot at the Barnes.

Anderson thought the case might make an interesting story for his magazine, a monthly publication that covers the country's high-profile law firms and lawyers. He's now a contributing editor.

About a month later, "I received a voice mail from Richard H. Glanton. It was a unique moment."

Anderson said Glanton was angry because Judge Anita Brody, who was hearing the Barnes case, would not recuse herself. (Judge Brody lived in Lower Merion Township.) He wanted a story about the great Barnes fight."

Glanton kept up a drumbeat of phone calls and faxes through the rest of the year, Anderson said. Anderson eventually produced a long account of the imbroglio for the magazine's January 1999 issue.

In the process, he found himself being drawn into the much more convoluted struggle for control of the Barnes that he describes in Art Held Hostage. Glanton was the central player in this saga until he was deposed as foundation president in early 1998.

Anderson's book ends with the filing last fall of a petition by Barnes trustees to move the foundation's collection to Center City.

"If there is one hero, it's Franklin Williams, a guy who really tried to find a reasonable middle course that would honor the Barnes indenture of trust while helping Lincoln University," Anderson said.

Williams, Glanton's predecessor as Barnes president, died in 1990. Lincoln appoints a majority of Barnes trustees. The university opposes a provision of the petition that would enlarge the board and in effect negate its control.

"I think if Williams had lived, there wouldn't be art held hostage. But then fate and Richard Glanton intervened," Anderson said.

"Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher is another figure who deserves a significant part of the blame" for the Barnes' predicament, Anderson said. "What oversight was there? Fisher was Glanton's ally."

Anderson also criticized The Inquirer's coverage of the Barnes story as a "mixed effort, especially in building up the myth of Richard Glanton as a reform president."

Moving the foundation's world-class art collection to Center City has been characterized as a rescue effort to save the foundation from bankruptcy.

However, Anderson said, "it's more like a takeover attempt" on the part of the foundations that are helping the Barnes raise $150 million to pay for the move.

"Money, power, fame and ego are driving this," he said. "If you were really interested in saving the Barnes, you could do it for much less, perhaps a quarter of that."

Anderson, who has a Ph.D. in American studies from Yale University, is also the coauthor of Burning Down the House, an account of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia.

He does not think race is playing a significant role in the tug-of-war over the Barnes' future. He does believe that cutting historically black Lincoln University out of that future "could blow up in [the foundations'] faces."

"I think ultimately there will be enough trumpets and hunting horns blaring that [enlarging the board] will come to look like a legal theft by the white establishment from the oldest black college."

The big foundations that are supporting the move - the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lenfest and Annenberg Foundations, could still act as genuine saviors if they wished, he said. "It would be the way to honor the extraordinary achievement of Dr. Barnes."

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