Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Barnes Hearing

I went to the Barnes hearing yesterday and was overcome by the stiffness of the atmosphere. The court room was full of lawyers, experts, students and residents. Those who represent the worst of Philadelphia culture and that Dr. Barnes would have fought against. Would the French avant guard artists he collected have been comfortable in this pack of aristocrats? The evidence was all about the value of the real property. The dispute over the value of land centered on the possible development of the Ker-Fael farmland. The value of the cultural existence was not even mentioned. Would anyone talk about subdividing Monets gardens?

The discussion of the "non- gallery" collection was even more astounding. The manner of valuing the collection as groups of objects gave no way for testing the basis for the appraisals. Nineteen paintings deemed "the most valuable" were discussed as to the different values given by the different experts. Judge Ott at one point even referred to ceramics that he had observed at Ker- Feal as common and worthless. There was no description of those items and therefore no way to value them.

The real issue that no one seems to be willing to talk about is the value of the "good will" of the Barnes Foundation. My grandfather who was a partner in the leading Philadelphia accounting firm of Parry, Linvell and Turner during the time of Barnes, 1920's to 1960, always stated the the only thing of value in the end was "ones good name".

This principal seems to have been forgotten in the art world. It seems to matter only what the fame of the art is and how much power that art can add to those who care for it. This is not about saving the Barnes as a art concept but rather about either keeping the quaint educational program or having a gallery that is the hot art destination in Philadelphia. Neither of these paths has anything to do with Dr. Barnes love of the interaction of visual art. I bet if he was asked he would treasure even the least of those things made by man. Was that not the point of putting "common " objects with "art".

Today the issue of the future plans might be discussed. Does it matter if the place that Barnes lived in with his art is recreated? Of course! To think that the experience can be replicated in a museum in Philadelphia with a multimedia entrance could do anything to maintain the ideas of Barnes is absurd. This would be the same as the cloisters in the PMA, held in a time capsule, removed from the context of the place. This is a Disneyesque view of how to make an art destination. Why does anyone think that the fake Barnes would be better? Why not just make high quality reproductions and put them up in Philadelphia? It would be far less expensive and valid, although just as absurd.


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