Barnes musings

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I read last week that Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher finally weighed in on the Barnes Foundation controversy. Fisher, who represents the interests of the public in the matter, sided strongly with the Barnes, saying the institution should be allowed to move the collection and to change the size and composition of its board. (For more, see Patricia Horn‘s story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 2003)

I toured the Barnes last year with Kimberly Camp, the current director. Camp, admittedly, is not an impartial observer. But she paints a convincing case that Albert Barnes’s mission is being thwarted under current conditions that severely restrict the number of visitors — and thus revenue — to run the place.

Barnes [image above is portrait of Barnes by Giorgio deChirico] was an art education missionary who believed in using his institution to educate and to foster dialog about art. He and John Dewey [see photo, below] thought art education would create a better democracy.

You have to assume that Camp and the others advocating the move had Barnes’s original mission in mind when they made their petition to the Orphans Court. I can’t believe that they want to turn the whole thing into a museum, an art cash cow on the Parkway.

Wouldn’t it be better if the collection moves, lock, stock and education program, to a location where the neighbors want it and where a broader group of people has a chance to come in and participate?

We could sure use a better democracy these days. I’m rooting for the Barnes to win this one. The judge will rule on the matter in December. Meanwhile, if you’ve never been to the Barnes, and chances are you haven’t, try to go — set eyes on the place. But be forewarned, you need to call, fax or email the Barnes to reserve a ticket in advance for their limited open hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays between 9:30 am-5:00 pm. (But August is the month to go. There’s only a one-week booking delay. Other months you may wait 30 days or longer to get a reservation.) [image above, from the Barnes collection, is Horace Pippin’s “Giving Thanks” 1942]

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