Montgomery County and the Barnes
“How to keep the Barnes in Merion,” by Scott Jefferys, is arguably the most eloquent, accurate, and insightful approach to the Barnes relocation argument… except for one thing: Mr. Church is in his 80s.
R. Charles Martin
July 25, 2007
What an eloquent article about the Barnes Foundation! What a tragedy that these know-nothing people on the board have the power to move the foundation from its magical site in Merion to that desolate Parkway. Rationality loses, and I don’t even think tourists gain. They will miss experiencing the founder’s brilliant and unique organization of paintings, ironwork, sculpture and furniture— an unparalleled aesthetic experience. The move is like chopping into pieces an organic being, mindless destruction.
July 25, 2007
Who are the people of Montgomery County to whom Scott Jefferys speaks? They cannot be the ones who complained loud and long about the nuisance caused by visitors even when the Barnes had stringent restrictions on the number of art lovers it would permit to enter its hallowed halls. And, they cannot be some of the many who stood by silently as the Barnes’s financial woes were first laid bare in court. Where were they when a solution was proposed to allow the Barnes Foundation to become financially viable?
All of the arguments that are suggested have been carefully weighed and considered. Two things are incontestable.
First, no one favoring the present site stepped up to fund the foundation when it first sought to escape Dr. Barnes’s prohibitions by exhibiting his collection outside of its home in Lower Merion— an effort that brought only temporary relief. Second, the art works collected by Dr. Barnes, as well as his unique philosophy, will be available for the first time to untold numbers of people, including people of color to whom the foundation was left.
Judge Ott had to determine as best as he could what Dr. Barnes would do if he were alive today, a task made more difficult by the doctor’s eccentricities. In the end, the decision was made in favor of survival without the necessity of selling a single painting.
The people of Lower Merion had their chance and blew it. Too late have they discovered the jewel in their back yard. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with relocation of the collection to Philadelphia, despite quibbling over the location or the architects who were invited to submit proposals.
It is time for the relocation process to move forward without Scott Jefferys stirring up redundant litigation.
July 25, 2007
What a beautiful letter. It so perfectly evokes the experience of the gardens at the Barnes Foundation. I feel that if those involved in the move would simply walk through the grounds for an hour as Mr. Jefferys suggests, plans to move the collection would evaporate.
Nancy L. Herman
July 25, 2007
Terrific article. I loved the analogy about the Parthenon with overgrown grass.
July 25, 2007
The Barnes and ‘It’s a done deal’
As an occasional participant in the ongoing debate, I am pleased that the Broad Street Review has deemed the move of the core Barnes Collection to the Parkway to be a worthy topic for public conversation. A more felicitous, not to mention justifiable, editorial defense of the decision to do so could have been offered than what appears in Dan Rottenberg’s column, “It’s a done deal!.”
I take exception, therefore, to the editor’s implication that those of us who have publicly supported the move are the latter-day equivalents of those who sided with slavery, segregation and Soviet communism. An extraordinary exercise of chutzpah is required to treat the residents of Lower Merion, the “Friends of the Barnes,” and others who oppose the move as members of the oppressed classes.
As I have patiently listened to my opponents, I have detected a whiff not of the oppressed, but of the defiant who historically have resisted changes that benefit the larger public. Their criticisms of Judge Stanley Ott and the Montgomery Orphans Court bring back memories to this boyhood Mississippian of the late Senator James Eastland’s comment: “Supreme Court or no Supreme Court, we are going to maintain segregated schools down in Dixie.”
The above comparison will surely bring howls of protest from opponents of the move, just as they insisted some years ago that they were unfairly treated by Robert H. Glanton, former head of the Barnes Foundation Board of Directors, when he accused them of racism. I do find it strange, however, that those who react so strongly to perceived character attacks are so bold in making the most vile charges against central figures in the relocation of the Barnes Collection, such as Rebecca Rimel of the Pew Charitable Trusts, various city officials and even Anne D’Harnoncourt, CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who hasn’t been directly involved.
My contributions to the ongoing debate in this website have focused on what I consider to be issues of substance, in particular the reasons why relocating the Barnes Collection to the Parkway will contribute to the public good and at long last fulfill what is most important in the trust of Albert Barnes. These reasoned positions, as well as those of others, do not merit being stigmatized by association with reactionary forces throughout history.
I would welcome the voices of Ms. Rimel and Mr. Derek Gillman in the public conversation, especially with regard to their visions for the Barnes Foundation on the Parkway. Their voices are not needed, however, “to make the case for moving the Barnes Foundation to Center City.” That case has been made repeatedly and persuasively.
July 5, 2007
My heart aches for Gresham Riley when he complains (above) about critics of the Barnes Foundation’s move to the Parkway who vilify its proponents. If only Dr. Barnes was here to offer an opinion; now, that would be a colorful characterization of Ms. Rimel et al. But Mr. Riley continues to insult the dead doctor by inserting his own agenda for the collection in place of that which Barnes clearly enunciated.
Most recently, Riley offers “the public good” as the compelling reason to violate the Barnes indenture and tear a site-specific collection from its home. Do we throw open the doors of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as well? Down with tuition and portfolios! How about making an education at Penn free and available to all comers? That’s in the public interest, too!
If Mr. Riley and others want to move the Barnes, then they should make the argument without trying to invoke Albert Barnes’s blessing, because he never would have consented to this hijacking of his Foundation. Show the man some respect; he collected, housed and arranged his artwork in a very deliberate fashion. If you think he was all wrong and you know better, then say so.
St. David’s, Pa.
July 11, 2007
Editor’s comment: I think you (as well as many others) miss one of Riley’s points: Once Barnes donated his collection to a tax-exempt foundation, it was no longer “his” property but the foundation’s, in which the public shares an important interest.
Dan Rottenberg, I love you! The “done deal” argument is wonderful. The Barnes Foundation belongs where its founder placed it— and where the paintings and objets d’art can be seen with the gardens.
The Art Museum, which surely has its eye on this collection, and Rebecca Rimel of the Pew Memorial Trust should be ashamed of themselves. By dislocating the collection, they are destroying the fragile aesthetic that Dr. Barnes created. When a “done deal” is a destructive deal, it should be abandoned. One can only pray.
July 16, 2007
Re: ”What’s in an art donor’s mind?"—
Andrew Kevorkian makes a great point. People can be classified in two distinct categories: the needy and the greedy. Dr. Barnes established the Barnes Foundation to provide the needy with an experience generally reserved for the greedy. The greedy now wish to usurp the collection and transplant it to the Parkway under the guise of making it more accessible to the needy. If you’re unwilling to find the Barnes— 100 yards off City Avenue— you’re not needy, you’re lazy!
Barnes despised the lazy as much as, and probably more than, the greedy. The Barnes Foundation should stay in Merion, preserved and convenient to all needy charged with the energy of sincere interest: in need of the experience.
Visit the Barnes in Merion before it’s destroyed. Limited time offer.
July 15, 2007
Re “A plague of small-cast plays,” by Jim Rutter—
As a free-lance theater director, I am painfully aware of the expense of staging a professional or even semi-professional production in Philadelphia. My colleagues who run small theater companies (and some of the larger ones as well) are perpetually skirting the edge of financial disaster, and that definitely limits the scope of work that we can present to local audiences. Many do not seek Barrymore eligibility— not because they disagree with what it represents, but because they cannot afford to.
The problem, however, is not the comically low $75 per week Barrymore minimum for actor pay. Who but an actor would take a 30-to-50-hour-a-week job that paid $75? Even a skilled veteran performer likely makes, at most, less than an entry-level receptionist, or the janitor who cleans the stage.
Though I agree that required minimum payments raise costs and likely promote smaller casts, it appears that Mr. Rutter would prefer that no one who produces theater be paid. Though excellent work is often done in local community theaters, for those of us in the small theater scene, theater is a profession, not a pastime. Year after year, we dedicate as much of our lives as we can afford to create the most meaningful and compelling theatrical experiences we can for the community. How can it be in any way fair for working professional theater artists not to be paid even a tiny fraction of what the most menial of employees expect by right?
Perhaps Mr. Rutter is correct that there is a higher volume of professional and semi-professional theater than the local audience can support. If so, in time, many of those smaller companies will fold or move on to more supportive communities. In the meantime, Philadelphia theater artists should be reasonably compensated for the value of the work they can (barely) afford to produce, no matter the size of the cast.
The Barrymore minimums promote the ideal that the creative efforts of Philadelphia theater artists are worthy of financial recognition as well aesthetic appreciation.
June 27, 2007
I am deeply skeptical of Jim Rutter’s fundamental suggestion that smaller casts mean a poorer grade of theater. The producer’s perennial search for a show with a small cast exists everywhere. Inevitably, these economic constraints fuel the artist’s creativity.
Playwrights always take budgetary issues into account. If they want to see their play on stage, they can’t write in a large cast, nor can they include too many fancy costumes or demand multiple sets. You also can’t expect to pull off wildly expensive special effects, such as pyrotechnics or an enormous chandelier crashing to the stage, unless you anticipate selling out to an enormous house or intend to tour perpetually. These constraints, however, are all rather insignificant (and often inspiring) obstacles to a talented theater artist with a good story to tell.
Furthermore, a director may hire only a few actors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer characters on stage. Creative double casting allows a small number of performers to present a range of personalities.
We also have a wealth of puppet and mask theater here, in which a few artists play numerous characters. After a night of rollicking comedy or entrancing drama, I am frequently astonished by the small number of performers at curtain call.
Don’t forget: Ten years ago, many artists and theatergoers bemoaned the fact there were hardly any new plays to see. Producers seemed satisfied to present the same old warhorses. Now we have dozens of bold new theaters seeking, discovering and sharing new and exciting (small-cast) plays from all over the world. A small number of these are even creating and presenting their own work here and touring it abroad.
Arguably, the Barrymore Awards do raise the cost of theater by demanding that producers pay actors a decent salary. But I’m on the side of paying artists what they’re worth. Labor is virtually always the largest cost associated with any human endeavor. I’d rather let producers save money by carefully selecting good plays with casts they can afford than see talented performers struggle through life in romantic poverty.
I also reject Jim Rutter’s suggestion that companies are failing artistically because there are too many of them. The number of theaters has exploded to meet the demand of our considerable regional audience. Also, new companies are ushered into existence by the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, which helps artists become producers by providing venues and marketing support. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia (which presents the Barrymore Awards) help producers build business smarts, so they can put more energy and resources onto the stage. Our cultural scene is strong; theaters are offering plays with only a few performers because they don’t need large casts to present excellent work.
June 27, 2007
Jim Rutter’s point re money and play selection is well taken. But he pulls the rug out from under his piece with his last paragraph. To compare a well-written, well-rehearsed stage play with a drunken bar scene doesn’t say much for his appreciation of theater, each moment of which focuses on the specific interaction of two people.... at a time.
June 27, 2007
Editor’s note: To read another response to this article, click here.
Yellow River Concerto
Re Tom Purdom’s review of the Yellow River Concerto—
I did not attend the Mann concert about which Purdom writes. In his comments, I was waiting for, but did not read, the wonderful connection the Philadelphia Orchestra has with the Yellow River Concerto.
In 1973 the Philadelphia Orchestra was the first western orchestra to visit the People’s Republic of China. On their concert program was the Yellow River Concerto. Upon their return they played a concert at the Academy of Music including this concerto. I attended that performance. Since that evening I have heard or have played it in hundreds of concerts. That concert is one of my most memorable.
Interestingly, at least to me, is the conductor of the Mann concert, Long Yu. A few years ago he conducted his China Philharmonic at the Kimmel Center. On the program was the Schoenberg transcription of the Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet. It too is a concert I will never forget.
John L. Baji
July 25, 2007
Tom Purdom keeps coming up with new ways to look at and hear music. It is fun to see what idea he will come up with next. He gives you a lot to think about.
June 27, 2007
Why classical audiences don’t boo
In response to Christopher Anderson’s letter about my column, “Why classical audiences don’t boo”—
The competitive standing ovator is one of the plagues of the concert world, and I agree that there seem to be more of them at classical concerts these days. However, my point was that classical audiences feel that they’re not allowed to genuinely express their appreciation while a piece is in progress.
Maybe it’s for the best.
I recently attended a deeply moving performance of the Schubert C major Quintet at the Delaware Chamber Music Festival, the wonderful concert series that Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Barbara Govatos has run for many years. The slow movement of that work is one of the most numinous
artifacts our culture has produced, and on that occasion, both audience and players sat in reverential silence for a long several seconds when it was over.
Despite what I wrote in my article, I really wouldn’t want it any other way.
June 27, 2007
Re: “Mendelssohn’s real tragedy,” by Dan Coren—
That was a wonderful use of excerpts to teach us. If you can’t hear the jump to the modulation the first time, you can listen to it again until you get it. And the imitation Beethoven followed by the real Beethoven was dramatically clear— almost a quote. Coren is at heart a wonderful teacher.
July 20, 2007
For more than a month, I have been trying to find someone in the Philadelphia Orchestra or Kimmel Center organizations to correct an official poster on the side of the Kimmel that reads, in part, “Lang Lang plays Motzart.” Phone calls and e-messages have been of no avail. Doesn’t anyone care that Mozart has grown that extra T?
July 21, 2007
Editor’s comment: Actually, Lang Lang will perform a series of short works by Doug Moe, former basketball coach of the Denver Nuggets, which are collectively known as “Moe’s Art.”
Respond to this Article