Artblog Celebrating 20 Years!   Support Us Today!

Barnes neighbor speaks out


Post by Louis Greenstein

The common assumption — which is inherent in your post — is that more people should be able to see this amazing collection [at the Barnes Foundation]. Why? Is it their birthright? (Shown, children learning at the Barnes.) I mean, I’m all for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but is someone who amasses a large private collection obligated to open it to the public? Dr. Barnes didn’t want to. He was quite clear on that point.


When I was a student there I learned how to look at art. I learned how to see. It took 26 weeks and many hundreds of hours. You can’t get an education like that in a museum. You can’t get an education like that by visiting a collection like the Barnes.

It’s as though you’ve built an amazing microscope that enables you to peer into the inner world of the atom – secret universes! You can teach people how to use this delicate instrument, but it takes time.

Art for only the neighbors?

Does society have the right to barge in with crowded tour buses from Kansas? “Step right up and see the giant-super-duper microscope! Step right up! Just one thin quarter! Keep it moving, keep it moving people!” No. It’s your tool, your gig.

The Barnes collection was Dr. Barnes’ tool. It was his gig. He left explicit instructions about how it should operate. It’s a school that allows a limited number of gawkers and tourists in each week. (And, incidentally, hopping on the 44 bus anywhere along Market St. and hopping off 30 minutes later a block from the Barnes is pretty darned easy to do.)

Glanton’s race card

pippingivingthanksAll that being said, Glanton made it about race. It was never ever an issue of the neighbors resenting that African-Americans run the Barnes (shown, Horace Pippin’s “Giving Thanks” from the Barnes Collection).

Many neighbors are hurt and bitter because the Barnes administration played the race card and continues to tell lies about the neighbors, e.g. that the foundation incurred legal fees defending itself in a lawsuit initiated by its neighbors.

There never was such a lawsuit. Honest. Look it up.

The Barnes, however, did sue its neighbors under the KKK act.

[Note from Roberta Just to clarify, while he’s right, the neighbors did not initiate the lawsuit, there was nonetheless a lawsuit. Incredible costs were incurred by all parties and it can be argued the suit was an act of desperation, and stupid to boot. But let’s not overlook this item, which I posted about previously, that says the neighbors are still fighting about how much money the Barnes owes them for their court costs, ($300,000) something that smacks of punishment not fitting the crime at this point (eight years after the case was dismissed).]

I read the brief they filed. It opened with several pages of photographs of black men being lynched in 1911 Mississippi. That hurt like hell. The neighbors complained about traffic problems. There was too much traffic BECAUSE Richard Glanton defied Barnes’ wishes. It’s not a tourist destination. It’s for a limited number of visitors. It’s quirky and goofy – like the man himself.

–Louis Greenstein is a freelance writer