Reflections on the Art of the Steal

I originally posted this on my new Artwork Pendants blog.  Just in case you missed it over there, here it is!  

The Barnes Foundation recently shut its doors to prepare for it's move to downtown Philadelphia and it has been all over the art news again.  It got me interested to see the movie, The Art of the Steal.

I recently watched The Art of the Steal, the gripping documentary about the Barnes Collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and modern art.

I have been fascinated by the battle over the control of the Barnes Foundation.  It’s fascinating to me in both of my worlds, since for my day job, I’m a paralegal who specializes in estate administration.

Before watching the movie, I didn’t have a strong opinion on the matter.  I thought what was most important was maintainence of the artwork itself.  I felt the actual hang of the art was also important.  But, then I figured they could easily recreate that at the new place as well.  As a paralegal, I know there are loopholes around everything and what they are trying to do is most likely legal.  (And there is a judge involved, so, the judge should be the one to make the decision.)

However, after watching the documentary and putting more thought into it, I am actually infuriated by the chain of events that led to whom had the ultimate control of the Barnes.

  1. The Barnes should not be moving at all to begin with.
  2. A question that I have not actually seen answered:  Is the new location’s main focus education?  The art was hung and the foundation began for education.  Will this new location serve as a school?
  3. Dr. Barnes specifically drafted his will to keep his art collection out of the hands of the Philadelphia social elite/Philadelphia Museum of Art, whom he hated.  Now they have control of it.
  4. As a museum on the Parkway in downtown Philadelphia, surely this collection is meant as a tourist attraction.  Philadelphia aggressively promotes its tourism, and this will be just another attraction.  The artwork is stuck in a battle about money and politics.  Just the opposite of what Dr. Barnes wanted.

Lincoln University

I have visited Lincoln University.  It’s a tiny school in a rural area.  (The town itself is actually called Lincoln University, that is the size of the town.)  After the original Board of Directors all passed on, Lincoln University was in control of the Barnes Foundation. 

It was an odd, eccentric choice, but it was Dr. Barnes’ choice to make.  I also believe that this was the unraveling of the Barnes Foundation.  The wrong person from Lincoln was in charge of the foundation, which led to a multitude of lawsuits that the Foundation had to pay for.  Then ultimately the Foundation had financial issues.  Not to mention, I don’t believe that they actually knew the value of the collection, and maybe they thought they were in more trouble than they actually were.

A series of unfortunate events and now here we are waiting for the Barnes to be placed in the mass approved building in the highly traveled Benjamin Franklin Parkway, sitting down the road as the little brother to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  For all purposes, run by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is the very thing that Dr. Barnes was trying to protect his art from with his will.

I can understand the argument that more people will be able to view the art in the new location, however, this was Dr. Barnes’s art. 

It does not belong to the City of Philadelphia,
It does not belong to the State of Pennsylvania,
It does not belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

It was Dr. Barnes’ art and HIS decision what to do with it.  He wanted it to stay where it is to be used in the school that he began. 

I don’t think just because the artwork is that of the masters that it suddenly becomes public property and should be controlled by the public (or politicians or the social elite.)

It infuriates me, to say the least.

Have you seen the movie The Art of the Steal?  Did it change your opinion about the situation (or solidify it more)?

What do you think about this situation?  Should the artwork of the masters be available to be viewed by everyone?  Or is a private collection, just that, private?

(please leave your views below in "comments")

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