Art and Controversy in Philadelphia
The Barnes Foundation
Stop for a moment to have a look at the building on your right, while I tell you about it.
[2 SECOND PAUSE]
This is the Barnes Foundation, and its the site of one of the greatest art scandals in the U.S.
Alfred C. Barnes was an avid art collector who built a mansion in the Philadelphia suburbs. Here, he displayed his art based on aesthetic. It was not unusual to see a wall with several paintings completed by different artists, hanging above historic furniture. Barnes’ goal was to offer a place for art education. It was not a museum.
Students were welcomed to view the art. Others could only visit after making a formal, written request. If you were a plumber, you were welcomed with open arms. If you were a member of Philadelphia’s art elite or high society, you were greeted with a harsh decline, sometimes signed by Barnes’ dog.
Barnes was killed in a car accident in 1951. In his will, he placed the care of the Barnes Foundation in the hands of the board of trustees. He left explicit instructions that his collection should never be sold, loaned, or moved. It should continue as a place of education and not a museum.
Unfortunately, once the old trustees retired, the new, politically savvy trustees lamented that the Barnes Foundation was destitute, and that Alfred’s beloved mansion was in complete disrepair. The leaky pipes and lack of adequate temperature control, would cause the eventual demise of the astounding artwork. They declared that it would cost too much to make the needed repairs. Wouldn’t it be better, they argued, for the preservation of the art, and for the financial health of the foundation, to build a brand new, state of the art, building, where everyone could enjoy the collection?
[1.5 SECOND PAUSE]
Lets continue walking straight, while I tell you the rest.
[1.5 SECOND PAUSE]
In 2012 the new Barnes Foundation opened. The collection Barnes fought so hard to keep away from Philadelphia’s art elite and high society, was put on display for all to see. After all, why should the wishes of a spiteful, eccentric, man continue to be followed? Is it fair for one man to dictate who can and cannot see artworks created by some of the most famous artists in history? I’ll leave that for you to decide.