Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the Barnes Foundation, and the Rich White Fuck Civil War
This past weekend, I visited a friend who lives in the Philly area. As one of our activities for Sunday, we visited the 'new home' of the Barnes Foundation which, she informed me, was not only perhaps one of the most impressive art collections I would ever see, but also the fulcrum of a feud comprising decades of ill-feeling and millions of dollars in lawsuits, to say nothing of government, industry, private and charity skullduggery.
How could I resist?
Since she's a long-time member (since 'before the move', whose relevance will I hope be clear by the time you finish reading this) we did not have to wait forever for tickets or get there very early in the day. We called to make reservations the day before and were able to zip in at 4:30 and have 90 minutes in the collection. Only 90 minutes, but as it turned out, that was more than enough to reduce my critical faculties to slightly jellied overload.
I see there is no node for The Barnes Foundation, which is a shame. For the nonce, here's what you need to know. Around the turn of the twentieth century, a doctor named Albert C. Barnes came up with a solution which could be placed in the eyes of infants to prevent them from being blinded by venereal disease, specifically gonorrhea. It was named Argyrol, after the Greek ἄργυρος (silver). Its active ingredient was silver nitrate. The antimicrobial properties of silver...
You know what, that's not important right now. What is important is that Argyrol was sold by Barnes and Hille, Chemists - and its sale (and the sale of the company before antibiotics came into use) made Albert C. Barnes, MD quite, quite wealthy. What's more important for this story is what he did with that money. There are many elegant and fascinatingly digressive ways to say it, but basically, he used a huge chunk of it to buy art.
What makes the story interesting today (because many, many monied rich white guys have bought art) is that he was really good at it. He decided that the Impressionists were, or were going to be, a very important movement in the art world. So he bought their stuff. And not only that, he had a good eye (we are assured by art historians and art academics and art critics of all flavors) so he bought really good examples of their stuff.
How much? Oh, my. Well, let's see - by the time he'd finished buying these paintings and then lovingly and personally installing them in ensemble pieces around a large mansion built specifically for the purpose in Lower Merion County, PA (just north of Philadelphia) he had put together what their literature tells us is a collection of over 2,500 objects, which includes 800 paintings. As an example, there are more Renoirs in the Barnes collection (181) than there are in the city of Paris. And the Louvre is there. As you might imagine, this occasionally annoys the French to no end. Renoir, Cézanne, Miro, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani - all of these and more, plus furniture from all over, African masks, wrought iron objects from Europe, etc. All of these he collected and arranged on the walls of this enormous mansion, carefully selecting pieces to be displayed together, along with their orientation and relative positions. Really, each room and each wall can be considered a piece of art - the curator's art - composed of individual paintings, objects and furniture.
But anyway. What does this have to do with my weekend? Onward. We walked through the first 12 or 13 rooms of the collection, guided by a cleverly done multimedia audio tour on loaner iPod Touches. I'm not very knowledgeable about art, but I recognized many of these paintings. And I must say, what nearly brought me to tears was the fact that the museum I was viewing them in - despite having several restrictive rules - nevertheless trusted me and its security to the point where I was allowed to bring the point of my nose to pretty much within six inches of those I could reach (some are hung quite high) with nothing but air between me and them.
Art museums such as this, I think, are probably one of the great successes of Renaissance Civilization and the rise of accumulated wealth.
But this brings me to my point. After 90 minutes, not only did the museum ask us to leave (as they were closing) but my brain had almost literally overloaded. I was still trying to process things I'd seen two rooms ago, and I'd only picked a few items in each room to give any close scrutiny. The wealth of artifacts (and I use the term advisedly) was overwhelming.
When we got home, I asked what my friend had meant about the collection being such a scandal magnet. She proceeded to show me a film which was recently released - it's entitled The Art of the Steal, and it is a documentary by a company called 9.14 Films. It was quite educational. I think, for the purposes of this writeup, I have to offer you a brief summary, so bear with me.
Barnes, you see, had (early on) decided he needed to go abroad to find art because he considered Philadephia a hideously backwater town, devoid of any real culture or intellectualism (I'm not sure much has changed). As he assembled his collection, the critics and intelligentsia of Philadelphia pooh-poohed it, calling Impressionism a completely 'primitive movement' that would 'never amount to anything' and derided his hubris at collecting it. Dr. Barnes appears to have been a man with a long memory, a hot temper, and the intelligence and will to support both. Quotes offered in the film make it very clear he had no problem with calling his critics out by name (and often by implied profession - 'prostitute' was applied to the nascent Philadelphia Museum of Art and its board at one point, for example). His largest opponent was a man named Walter Annenberg. Another rich white Philadelphian (ex-Milwaukee, I think) Annenberg and his family owned the Philadelphia Inquirer - and being upper-crust, clubbable (as one gent interviewed in the film calls them) and thus nobby, were apparently everything Dr. Barnes disliked about Philadelphia. Annenberg, too, had an art collection, and for whatever reason (perhaps because his paper's writers scoffed at Barnes' collection) they apparently hated each other. It went far enough for Barnes to disparage Annenberg's father Moe Annenberg. Moe had been a bit of a gangster, you see, in the classic sense, and had been nailed by the Feds using their favorite, tax evasion. A deal was struck, whereby the charges against the son (who had been a bit involved) would be dropped if the father took the fall - and Moe was a stand-up guy for his son. He was released only a short while before his death, and it seems Walter took up a long-time hatred of Democrats and liberals (as Democrats had put his dad in jail). Barnes, you see, was extremely progressive for his time - he ran an integrated workplace, collected 'Negro' (African and African-American) art. And Barnes set up the Barnes Foundation.
The Foundation got a nice mansion, as I said, surrounded by exquisite gardens, and inside Barnes put all his art - personally curated. But that wasn't what pissed off the nobs. No, what pissed off the nobs was that it was just north of Philadelphia, and Barnes swore up and down that his collection would never be 'whored out' like that of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to attract tourists. He made his collection into a private school.
Yep, a school.
So if you wanted to see the collection, you had to enroll as a student there, be employed there, or you had to be invited by Dr. Barnes. The film explains that in one famous example, the art critic of the New York Times wrote and asked to view the art. Dr. Barnes wrote back something probably unprintable, but definitely containing a 'no', and had his dog sign the letter with a pawprint.
However, if a man wrote and said he was a plumber or humble workman and wished to see the art, Barnes would usually invite him down and sometimes personally conduct him on tours.
So. Picture clear? This was a rich white fuck, was Barnes - but he was a champion of the common man, and a devout opponent of other rich white fucks, and apparently a strong supporter of what we might call the liberal agenda. But of course, what happened in the end is what happens to us all - Dr. Barnes perished in an automobile accident at age 78, in 1951.
He had foreseen this, of course. He had created the Foundation specifically for this purpose. At the time of his death, he had no children. His wife Laura Barnes was the director of the Arboretum which ran the gardens around the Foundation building, and the Foundation itself was run by Violetta de Mazie - a Frenchwoman who served as a teacher there. Dr. Barnes apparently believed that she held closest to his philosophy and ideas for the Foundation - that as a private collection, it should be used for the education of those who wished to learn. Most importantly, it should not ever be used as a means of garnering fame, influence or money. The indentured trust contained his explicit instructions that the collection should never be loaned, moved, or sold either in whole or in part. It's possible that de Mazie was Barnes' mistress, but that's not clear - and in any case, isn't important.
Immediately after his death, The Philadelphia Inquirer (remember them? Annenberg's company?) filed a lawsuit in the public interest, attempting to force the Barnes Foundation to open its collection to the public. The lawsuit failed. However, ten years later, another action forced the Barnes Foundation to begin offering public viewings in very limited numbers- 500 visitors per week. Reservations were required two weeks in advance. At this point, it seems, the rich white fucks opposing Barnes ran up against Miss de Mazie and were stymied - especially as she seemed to have Laura Barnes' support, which meant they couldn't use the rumors that she had been Barnes' mistress against her.
In 1981, de Mazie died - and then things really got interesting. Apparently, a large faction of rich white fucks had assumed that Barnes had left control of the Foundation (via nomination power thereto) to the University of Pennsylvania (since he didn't like museums) and they were relatively confident that they could naturally grab control through that avenue when de Mazie passed away. But it turns out, they were wrong - among his many changes to his will, late in life he'd decided to really stick it to the other rich white fucks and had left control four of the five seats on the Foundation board to Lincoln University.
In case you don't know, Lincoln is a black university. Oh, he must have been rolling in laughter in his grave, Dr. Barnes.
Lincoln seems to have been a bit unsure of what to do about this rich white fuck heirloom that was dropped in its lap. They eventually (in the 1980s, after de Mazie died) assigned a very, very ambitious man named Richard H. Glanton to the presidency of the board. Glanton decided that damn it, this whole 'hide it away in a suburb' thing was bullshit, and embarked on a campaign to open the collection to public exhibition. Worse; he decided that the Foundation's finances were in terrible shape, and that the only way to save it was to (in his words, from the film) 'deaccession' some paintings from the collection, and sell them.
As you may imagine, this lit off an awful furor. The other board members fought back, and he responded by firing them. All of them. And replacing them (presumably, although it isn't clear) with more compliant folks. And as part of his campaign, he took a reporter from (you guessed it, the Philadelphia Inquirer) on a series of very detailed and involved behind-the-scenes tours of the Foundation's buildings, demonstrating the poor condition of its physical plant. Water leaks in the roof, a defunct HVAC system, cracked walls - all this and more were shown in photos in the paper. On the strength of this and other evidence, Glanton got permission from the courts to break some of the terms of the indenture - specifically, he was allowed to send the collection on a multi-year international tour (remember, Barnes had decreed that the collection never be loaned or moved, specifically because those activities allowed the collection to become revenue-generating and hence tainted by money). Using the proceeds from this tour, and while the paintings were gone, Glanton and the new board began repairs on the building. In the film, Glanton aggressively defends his actions, and at the same time waxes enthusiastic about how he was greeted as a hero by the art world (read: museums, critics and nobs) around the world for 'freeing the Barnes.' After you hear him talk fawningly and proudly about getting invited to meals with Princess Di, you're pretty much ready to puke and smack him on the head for being a fucking tool.
Then, when the art returned to the U.S., the degree of his betrayal of Barnes becomes clear - it went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for an exhibition, where it made that institution a great deal of money. Glanton held a gala party at the Barnes Foundation building in September 1995, to celebrate the return of the collection to their home - and he invited all the rich, powerful movers and shakers of Philadelphia.
The very people that Barnes had built the foundation to keep the collection away from.
What, you thought it was over? Oh, no. It gets way better. Glanton opened the Foundation to public viewing - to heavy public viewing. And thus and lo, the Rich White Fuck Civil War got a new faction. The neighbors of the Barnes Foundation, in the very wealthy Lower Merion County, are pretty much exactly who you think they are. They are wealthy white people. And they were pissed. I say this not to belittle them or to tag them unfairly with motives - I'm just describing them as rich white fucks because it makes the story better. But let's be clear: they were white, and rich, and not on Glanton's side. They began videotaping the procession of tour buses and crowds of tourists and piles of littered McDonald's wrappers and junk that were now clogging their (residential, remember! Rich and residential!) street on which the Barnes Foundation existed. One (quite nice-looking, actually, sorry for the tag, dear) lady tells us in the film that she saw the Barnes Foundation from her kitchen sink window, and got in the habit of videotaping every tour bus she saw come up, and that Glanton said that due to her he felt like he was being 'harassed by the KGB'. She says in an aside that that was the only time she felt powerful. That's nice for you, dear, but I have to be honest - speaking as a black American, even an upper-middle-class one sitting here drinking double-matured Lagavulin limited edition, I'm sorry, if that's the only time you've ever felt powerful then you need to get a better husband or just get the fuck out of the house more.
In any case, as you can tell from my asides, nobody's making friends here. Not with me. But I digress.
Glanton and the Foundation filed a request to fast-track an approval in the local zoning board for the Foundation to build a 52-car parking lot on the grounds, to improve attendance numbers. And that's where Glanton went wrong, because many of these neighbors made impassioned speeches at the board explaining that they'd happily lived next to the Barnes for years and years until now. What was the pivotal point, though, seems to be that this nice lady's husband made a speech to the board and used the following words about Glanton and the 'new board of the Barnes Foundation':
Now, I don't know the full text of what was said (the movie offered a very brief glimpse of a transcript). I heard the man tell us what his feelings and motivation were. I have to say, I don't think the man was consciously making any reference to anything at all involving race. I think he honestly thought of these non-local interlopers gaining control of his neighborhood institution as carpetbaggers, and by 'his people' I think he thought he meant 'Glanton's board members.'
Glanton didn't think so, and filed a Civil Rights lawsuit using the Ku Klux Klan act against the organization that styled itself 'Friends of the Barnes' (the neighbors) for racism, attaching Lincoln University's name.
In the end (after years and millions of dollars in legal fees spent) the courts decided that there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever of racial intent or insult in the speech, and basically told Glanton to get stuffed. Lincoln University, meanwhile, appears to have decided enough was enough - because immediately after the defeat, they fired him.
Okay, at this point the linearity of the narrative gets problematic, and anyway, the film starts darkly alluding to connections between events (and some events themselves there is no evidence of, although I have no trouble believing them). But here's some salient events. Make of them what you will.
- The presidency of the board was passed to a Dr. Bernard C. Watson, who was experienced in fundraising due to his work with...the city of Philadelphia's Tourism and Conventions board.
- The Government of Pennsylvania notices that Lincoln University is, in fact, a state college - and the Governor of Pennsylvania (Gov. Rendell) is filmed admitting that he spoke with the Lincoln board about their university budget, which was provided by the state.
- The Attorney General is on film admitting that he reminded Lincoln University that in fact, any decision about whether actions were legal under the terms of the trust were, oh my, within the remit of the Attorney General and the courts.
- The Barnes Foundation is unable to receive grants from the state to maintain its buildings and repair its finances, drained by Glanton's lawsuits.
- Lincoln University suddenly receives a $40 million budget bump to build a campus center.
- The Lincoln University-appointed board members agree to a proposal that the board be expanded from five seats to twenty seats - of which Lincoln University retained their original four. The rest were to go to banks and 'charitable foundations.'
- The new president (following this expansion), Kimberly Camp, floats a proposal to move the Barnes Foundation to downtown Philadelphia to 'preserve the collection.'
- A group of foundations (The Pew Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation (Ha!) and the Lenfest Foundation) provide a 'bridge' of some $3 million to keep the Foundation afloat while they explore the possibility of - wait for it - raising $107 million - 100 to move the Foundation's collection to a new facility downtown near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and 7 to repair the original building and grounds. Why couldn't they raise the money to restore the Foundation in situ? Well, er, um. You know. Access. Limited access. And stuff.
- The Pew Foundation, under the direction of its President, Rebecca W. Rimel, applies to the government to change its status from a private to a public charity. As part of this process (which allows them to accept tax-deductable donations, I believe, and in general would increase their coffers significantly) they must prove that they can a) raise large sums of money and b) do responsible things with them. Their filing seems to mention often the Barnes Foundation and their ability and willingness to administer these large monies to be raised to move it.
- The Barnes Foundation's larger board votes to accept the money and move the collection (which Barnes refused to allow) to Philadelphia (whose elites he hated) and turn it into a public museum (which he never wanted).
It doesn't end there, though. You see, the Friends of the Barnes weren't done. They'd been filing lawsuits all along, and generally opposing all of this; they had gathered in professionals and rich folks and critics from around the country and beyond. Guess what they found (according to this film, that is, although I'm willing to believe it)?
The Barnes Foundation was moved because a judge accepted the Board's testimony that there was no way to rescue the Foundation without accepting the terms of the Pew and associated foundations' offer to raise money for that purpose, which would of course require the collection to move to Philadelphia.
Well, apparently, someone turned up a copy of the Pennsylvania State Budget from three to four years before this judge's decision after hearing all testimony. And in that budget, buried deep down, was the following item: a bond sale-backed $107 million for 'the relocation of the Barnes Foundation collection and construction of a new facility and repair of existing site.'
What does this mean? It means that once the Pew foundation was granted their public charity status, they could manage (and disburse) money from government sources. They could, in fact, step up and announce that they had 'raised' the $107 million for the Barnes, as they had said they would - by accepting a single check from Pennsylvania's taxpayers and then accruing the political rewards of disbursing it.
So. If the money was available in a passed budget years before this decision, had anyone told the judge that in fact the money to 'save the Barnes' was indeed available and allocated even before the board agreed to the move? Nope. They hadn't. And the Friends of the Barnes went ahead and filed petitions to reopen the case on those grounds.
They were denied, as they had 'no standing.'
I'm not sure you can call it an aftermath, because I just learned that a day or two ago, the Barnes President at the time of the relocation proposal just blogged that 'no, we weren't bankrupt at the time, but saying that made the rescue of the Barnes sound more gallant' or some such. So there are new petitions being filed.
I watched a dozen or more elite and moneyed white people complain bitterly about 'the fix being in' from the foundations and the government officials and the companies and the museums who were all looking, and had been for nearly seventy years, to fuck over Albert Barnes' control of his art collection.
And here's where I came up, after watching this documentary about this fascinating story.
Let's start with Barnes. He is presented as the hero of the piece, and (in every interview with the RWFs who support him, and some blacks, too) we are reminded that the opposition has trampled on his wishes and the legally-established provisions of his will. They have gotten courts to set aside his explicit instructions, using a variety of underhanded means; and they have done so while giving speeches (shown in the film) proclaiming how wonderful this made them feel about themselves, and how wonderful this would be for the economic position of the City of Philadelphia. The position of the RWFs who lost (let's call them the Friends of Barnes, for ease's sake) is that an art collection worth conservatively $25 billion was basically stolen - or at best, 'bought' for $100 million by the state of Pennsylvania and (by implication) the city of Philadelphia, against the express wishes of its original owner and the legal instrument he set up. Hence the title, The Art of the Steal.
The other side is harder to get a handle on, motivation and method wise. Most of them 'declined invitations to be interviewed for this film.' And when you read the histories of the Barnes Foundation online, or on its own website, or in the handouts given to you at the museum - well, most of this information isn't in there. There's a swift tale of a struggling private foundation without the resources to protect this precious cultural heritage being gracefully rescued by the Pew foundation, its colleagues, and the art world of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.
The new home of the collection (which opened in May, 2012) is interesting. It's a gorgeous (in my opinion) building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It is interesting because it is a modern stone-sided cubist structure on the outside - and on the inside, every room of the original mansion has been painstakingly replicated, down to the color of the burlap on the walls and the position of the art on them. Barnes' rules about no labeling or information plaques have been followed. The rooms themselves are presented as walk-through dioramas, and watching the documentary, which contains a great deal of photos and film shot inside the original collection, I was struck at how faithfully it had been represented - at least, to the viewer of the art.
Oh, the teabagging? Yes, well. The central court, around which the entire museum is built and within which, I am sure, any dedication ceremony or other functions were held, has a large carving in the stone naming its donor. When you open the map of the museum you're given, that name is the first thing you see, in the middle of the page.
The Walter and Leonore Annenberg Court.
I found it hard, after watching this movie, to actually root for either side. Because as I said in the title, both sides are bastards and angels. Let's start with Dr. Barnes. Dr. Barnes' philosophy and position, I must admit, made him a very sympathetic character for me in the beginning. Telling The Man to go stick it is always good for at least an approving nod from my direction, and he did so with gusto. His support of the common man against the nobs didn't hurt. And yes, it was his art. So in that sense, he's an angel.
But that's not all, you see.
First, his whole position was, in fact, based on discrimination. If he didn't like you, you didn't get to see the art. And that's fine, because it was his! And he discriminated against the One Percent! But...if he can discriminate against them, and it's OK, then someone else telling me I can't see this art because I'm black...well, that's okay too. During his life, I would staunchly defend his rights to decide who got to see his art. No problem.
But then he died.
And he tried to ensure his wishes went on after his death, not by deeding the art to a human being who shared his ideas, but by setting up a legal instrument. He tasked that legal instrument with what was, in effect, discrimination in favor of a very few -and you see, here's where the trouble starts. That instrument was set up to utilize the arm of the law of the state of Pennsylvania to carry out its goals. As the years went on, the world around that instrument (and him) had changed. Discrimination became less cool, and the prohibitions against it became stronger. The prohibition against legal entities (as opposed to people) discriminating arbitrarily became stronger still.
He had the option of leaving the art to a person and trusting that person to do what he wanted. But he didn't do that. He left it, in essence, to the legal system. He did it using very good lawyers, and in a way that strongly protected his opinions. But you know - the opinions of a lot of Rich White Fucks about how the world should work got taken to the cleaners by the legal system of the United States, even when they'd been embedded within it, over the years. And let's face it - because his side lost, I got to spend part of Sunday with my nearsighted eyes a foot away from billions of dollars worth of historically significant (and in some cases, incredibly moving even to me) pieces of art. Barnes would have preferred I be forced to personally entreat the controller or become a student there to even see these pieces. So...in that sense, in my modern estimation...yeah, he was a bastard.
The other side is worse. For all the wrong reasons, and using all the wrong methods, they ended up with a result that I think is better for those who aren't Rich White Fucks - because yes, now you, too, can go and see the art. There is a time of week set apart for free viewing, paid for charitably by a corporation, in case you don't have the resources to buy a ticket. The paintings are in a new, controlled, safe and (as far as I can tell) protective environment but still visible to jerks like me who are interested. So Annenberg's Crew come off, that far, as angels.
Why did they do it, though? And how? Well, I think the film makes a good case that they did it because they really didn't like that liberal progressive fuck Albert Barnes because he dared call them assholes, in some cases; and they did it because the Barnes Foundation was a pawn and stepping stone to the control of a great deal of money, prestige and power, in other cases. All of those are reasons Barnes wouldn't let them have it in the first place, and I have to agree with him. Plus, the methods were just...sleazy. The ex-Governor of PA is interviewed in the film, and he states flatly that 'Lincoln University was told clearly that the $40 million was not contingent on the Barnes moving.' But you know what? He purses his mouth and looks away from the camera immediately after saying that. How did someone who lies that poorly get to be governor? Anyway. That sort of thing, plus the whole Pew foundation claiming the Barnes move had nothing to do with their IRS filing (despite it being all over the filing's text) and the 'mysterious' $107 million in the PA budget which seems to have no signature or known proponent - yeah. Bastards.
Probably my biggest fascination with the film, though, is watching the Friends of the Barnes rail against the shadowy vast conspiracy of interests that interfere with their wants and their lives. It didn't interfere with any of their actual livelihoods or sustenance or health as far as I can tell - no, mostly, it just irritated them and interfered with what they felt was right.
And speaking as me (and with all that entails, and I won't repeat it) I have to say - it's a fascinating experience watching them have huge entitled hissy fits in the name of 'culture' and 'the public.' Because, yeah, in a lot of ways? Fuck 'em. If they had gotten what they wanted, I wouldn't be able to see those paintings - and those paintings no longer belonged to a human, who I would grant the right to make that decision. Those paintings didn't belong to them. They were working to prevent me from seeing something they didn't own or control; something I consider important and precious, which had passed beyond the control of its original owner and (most importantly) not been given into the control of another person.
I thought about whether Glanton (a black man, by the way) who had initially started to break open the control of the trust over the collection) knew what he was doing. He came across as odious, even in his own words - he was delighted that he was given control of this asset, because it got him invited to lunch with Princess Di and because (in his own words) he was 'treated like a conquering hero' in Europe. So yeah, he loves adulation gotten for breaking the terms of the trust he was supposed to uphold - so fuck him.
On the other hand, let me be clear - had I been in his shoes, the Neighbors of Lower Merion County would have been just the Rich White Fucks I would have loved to fuck over. Carpetbagger? His people? Yeah, I'm sure that man sincerely believed he wasn't being racist.
But you see, his beliefs aren't controlling, there. And he's not the only one, or the worst - listening to the very white Attorney General of Pennsylvania describe a conversation he had with the Lincoln representatives over the proposed expansion of the Barnes board and the relocation by saying "I made it clear to them they needed to change the complexion of the board" - yeah, well, he's on my 'fuck that cracker' list too, pretty damn hard.
Something else I wonder about. Glanton played right into the hands of the opposition (and in fact met with Annenberg in the 1990s, where he received encouragement!) and seems proud of his role. Did he know he was being used as a patsy to break open the defenses of the Foundation? I don't know. On the one hand, maybe he honestly did believe in what he was doing, or what the Annenberg side professed they wanted to do, and it just dovetailed with his own ambition.
On the other...maybe he did recognize where he was. He was in the middle of a Rich White Fuck Civil War, and the whim of one of those Rich White Fucks had dragged a bunch of black folks, in the form of Lincoln, right into the damn middle. Maybe he saw the fight forming over the Foundation, between the Friends of the Barnes and the old board on one side and the Pew and Annenberg on the other - and maybe he felt that if he tried hard enough, he could break the foundation entirely out of that battleground. Perhaps he thought that if he could make it a public attraction, he could move it out of the shadowy tug-of-war and put it somewhere neither side could grab it.
But listening to him, honestly, he doesn't sound like he has that long a game. He mostly just sounds like he really, really liked being patted and told by those European Rich White Fucks that he was a good guy.
And Lincoln. Did they know what they were selling, for that $40 million campus center? I have no idea - but of all the players here, I think that if they did know and sold out, they're the least to blame. They were dragged into the war, and both sides were inimical. One side offered them a cash buyout. Should they have taken it? I have no idea. But it's entirely possible that a struggling state college, with massive budget problems of its own, would decide that even if they fought the good fight, all they'd do is drag the collection down into the dirt with them - and that in the end, if the people could see the paintings, maybe those bastards with the buyout were slightly more angelic.
I have no idea how much of the story the film tells is true, actually - although reading online about the Barnes Foundation is amazing not only for what you can get told, but for what seems to get left out. The film itself has some questionable bits in it - my 'favorite' is a segue which comes after a descriptive list of the intellectual qualifications of a black man who handled the Barnes trust for Lincoln. Immediately afterwards, there is a segue to a new segment, about Richard Glanton (who this man installed) - the segue, right after this list of his qualifications, is the phrase (which readers of Native Son will no doubt find resonates) "Thinking Bigger."
But you know - I got to peep a bunch of super rare art. Some of it even made me think, quite a bit. And here's the most amazing bit.
I want to go back and finish what I started.
I am usually bored stiff at art museums. I make no pretense of being a great intellect or great cultural light or even a mostly-decent academic.
And if that collection can move me...
...then I'm glad it's out where those smarter and more starved for it than I can see it too.