Sandy Bressler on moving the Barnes (and Gresham Riley's reply), Bernard McCormick on Alan Halpern's eye for graphics, Patrick Hazard on Dan Rottenberg's takes on Natural History and Reinventing Eden.
Moving the Barnes
In "Moving the Barnes: No Hobson's Choice" (Apr. 27, 2006), Gresham Riley states that the central point of his essay is that "the Barnes collection will retain its fundamental identity once it's relocated on the Parkway.” But the issue is the identity of the Barnes Foundation, not the Barnes collection, and Mr. Riley misses that critical point. The 501 (c) (3) status is for the Barnes Foundation, not for the Barnes art collection. These two entities are not the same.
Contrary to Mr. Riley’s understanding, the Foundation is an integrated whole that is composed of many parts: (1) two schools, art and horticulture; (2) the gallery art collection; (3) the gallery building designed by Paul Cret specifically for Barnes’s collection of art and artifacts, including an entrance surrounded by Enfield tiles in an African motif, site-specific murals painted for its main gallery by Henri Matisse, and bas-reliefs by Jacques Lipchitz integrated into its façade; and (4) the mature arboretum, with its unusual and rare plant collections, that precedes and surrounds the art gallery experience and creates a dynamic tension between natural and man-made beauty and expression.
All of these aspects of the Barnes Foundation present aesthetic and perceptual and intellectual challenges— interrelationships that were designed to unfold and reveal themselves in Merion. That is what I take Peter Schjeldahl’s comment in the New Yorker to mean: The genius loci of the Barnes Foundation will be lost forever if the art collection is moved to Philadelphia.
Schjeldahl went on to say that “the Barnes is a work of art in itself, more than the sum of its fabulous parts. You don't view the installation so much as live it, undergoing an experience that will persist in your memory like a love affair that taught you some thrilling, and some dismaying, things about your character. If there were other places like the Barnes, dispensing with it would not be tragic. But one minus one is zero.”
That is not an experience you’re likely to have if the art collection moves to the Parkway– in a new building, on a crowded and noisy street.
In his Indenture of Trust, Albert Barnes was explicit about wanting the Barnes to remain in Merion. The only problems with the Barnes Foundation are mismanagement and fiscal imprudence. That is no reason to move the Barnes art collection five miles at a cost of more than $300 million, including $95 million in taxpayer funds promised by Governor Rendell. Visitation can increase in Merion, and the neighbors want it to remain there.
The Barnes Foundation is a rare and unique institution, part of our social history and cultural patrimony. As Peter Linnett wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “it’s not too late to decide to celebrate Barnes instead of making an end run around him in the name of the public good.”
May 5, 2006
Gresham Riley responds: Sandy Bressler would have us believe that what is at issue in the Barnes brouhaha is the Foundation and its identity, not the collection. Such a position is absurd at worst, disingenuous at best. Without the collection, the Barnes Foundation would be of no interest to anyone.
Various changes to the operation of the Barnes Foundation have been authorized in the past by the Orphans Court without the “friends” of the Barnes claiming that the Foundation's identity had been compromised. The board's investment policy is one example; permission to travel parts of the collection is a second. Yes, there was opposition to the latter, but not an outcry over the Foundation's “fundamental identity.” Furthermore, I would be willing to wager that if, in this last round before the Orphans Court, the ruling had been in favor of restructuring the board but opposed to relocation, we would not be having this electronic exchange.
So far as I know, Albert Barnes left no instructions on future plantings in the arboretum or their arrangement; he placed no restrictions on structural changes to the Paul Cret designed gallery building; he did not consider a school of horticulture his major legacy. He was preoccupied (and rightly so) with his collection: its preservation, its use as related to his philosophy of arts education, and its governance.
Only three elements in the Foundation’s mission are of central concern: preservation of its invaluable collection; the use of that collection for a special kind of arts education; and the specific public for whose benefit the collection and the educational program were intended. The recent decisions of the courts have affirmed these points, and in doing so they have both honored Albert Barnes’s will and served the public interest.
P.S. Unless I missed a notice in the press, Governor Rendell committed $25 million, not $95 million as claimed by Ms. Bressler, to the Barnes relocation.
May 9, 2006
Re Dan Rottenberg's review of Natural History (April 28, 2006)—
Heh,whales don't have much to say to each other! We humans have too much to say and too little time. If only Jonah had given us an insider's look at how they spout so glibly. And Moby Dick sets a bad example of interspecies discourse.
Patrick D. Hazard
May 8, 2006
You did a beautiful job on Philadelphia Magazine's late editor Alan Halpern (Jan. 9, 2006), just as you did with the spoken word at his memorial. I have only one point of disagreement: Graphics.
Some of the magazine's photography in the '60s was outstanding, although mostly black-and-white. Sam Nocella, Jim Purring and Francis Laping were among several outstanding photographers. And some of the covers were great. Alan also used cartoonists. He gave Arnold Roth some of his first work. I especially recall Gaeton Fonzi's piece on The Molly Maguires (the Sean Connery-Richard Harris film shot in Eckley, Pa.) as being superbly photographed. Gaeton and I did annual Jersey shore stories— Ocean City, Long Beach Island, Wildwood ("The Marxian ideal has at last been realized in Wildwood-By-The-Sea. The place has no class"), Atlantic City, Cape May. The photography on those pieces was always first rate.
Gulfstream Media Group
Palm Beach, Fla.
May 6, 2006
Editor's note: The writer was a senior editor of Philadelphia Magazine in the 1960s and early '70s.
Re Dan Rottenberg's review of Reinventing Eden (April 27, 2006)—
Dan: The utter contingency of your conception is a beguiling metaphysical conundrum. You must climb every limb of that mysterious family tree before you pack it in.
Patrick D. Hazard
May 6, 2006
Penn Symphony Orchestra
Re "Penn student orchestra shines," by Dan Coren (April 26, 2006)–
Bravo!! So glad to finally read some press regarding our orchestra. Our timpanist pointed this article out to me, and i just wanted to take the time to thank you on behalf of the orchestra (even though my brass playing was apparently badly out of balance!). I look forward to more contact with the Review in the coming year.
President of Board and Manager
Penn Symphony Orchestra
May 8, 2006