We’re testing some new forums for Art Market Monitor. If all goes well, we’ll start using them more during the Armory Show next week. But with the intense interest surrounding the Barnes documentary, it might be interesting to hear what you all think about Dr. Barnes’s vision for his foundation and why (or why not) that has been threatened by the move to a new building downtown.
Let’s start with this quote from Mark Lamster’s story in The Architect’s Newspaper:
In 1923, Barnes exhibited his collection at the Institute of Fine Arts, expecting a hero’s reception. Instead, he was denigrated, in the press and in Main Line drawing rooms, as a purveyor of tasteless degeneracy. Barnes was not the type to mollify his critics. He turned up his nose at the Philadelphia Philistines and took his toys to suburban Merion. His foundation, chartered a year earlier, would be devoted solely to art education. Even minimal public viewing hours—two days a week—were not instituted until the 1960s.
Having witnessed the Philadelphia Museum of Art absorbing the Old Masters collection of his friend John G. Johnson after his death—despite Johnson’s specific injunction—Barnes took extreme measures to keep his own collection from The Establishment. He had his lawyers draw up an ironclad will ensuring that it would absolutely, positively be held intact in the building Philip Cret designed for it, never to be lent, sold, or moved.
Barnes died without heir, but his vision was upheld through the directorship of his amanuensis, Violette de Mazia (the film is vague as to the precise nature of their relationship). It was with her death, in 1988, that things started to go awry. Control of the institution was left to Lincoln University, a historically black college, and thereafter fell into the hands of Richard Glanton, a Lincoln appointee with grand aspirations.
Glanton was the first to violate the Barnes trust, sending the collection on a blockbuster around-the-world tour, culminating at the hated Philadelphia Museum of Art. As Argott would have it, this was a travesty, but exactly why anyone should be upset, beyond the fact that it would have outraged the long-dead Barnes, is left unsaid. Glanton also engaged in a largely frivolous and financially draining lawsuit with the neighbors, who were displeased with the increased traffic to the previously dormant institution.