Barnes art move clears another hurdle

May 15, 2008 7:12:10 PM PDT
A judge on Thursday rejected a request to hold new hearings on a contentious plan to move The Barnes Foundation's renowned art collection from the suburbs to downtown Philadelphia. The opponents have been trying to persuade Montgomery County Orphans' Court Judge Stanley Ott, who has jurisdiction over Dr.

Albert Barnes' trust, to reconsider a 2004 decision that permitted the move. Ott ruled that the county and the Friends of the Barnes citizens group lack the legal standing to make such a request.

Lawyers representing the opponents asked Ott in March to allow them to present new arguments for keeping the foundation at its current location in Lower Merion Township. They said the new proposals would provide the Barnes with funding it needs to stay put.

Evelyn Yaari, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Barnes, said Ott's ruling "changes nothing."

"The group remains resolutely committed to preserving the Barnes in Merion," she said. "The mission will remain. ... We will have to find other avenues to pursue it."

Barnes Foundation president Derek Gillman said he was pleased with the decision.

"It's nice to have it out of the way," he said, adding that the design plans for the new gallery are well under way and have continued despite the legal wrangling.

The Barnes Foundation said it was essentially broke when it asked Ott for permission to leave the suburbs and move closer to Philadelphia's popular tourist attractions. Ott's permission was necessary because Albert Barnes' will instructed that his paintings "remain in exactly the places they are" after his death.

The collection includes an astounding trove of French impressionist and postimpressionist masterpieces and thousands of other objects. The foundation said it would go bankrupt if forced to keep its 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses and 44 Picassos in its out-of-the-way home, which was subject to township rules severely limiting the number of visitors.

In March, opponents of the move told Ott that a new township ordinance would allow more visitors and that a county-backed $50 million purchase-lease back arrangement would give the Barnes a massive infusion of cash. They also said the Barnes building is eligible for National Historic Landmark status, opening up a possible source of federal funding.

Attorneys for the foundation and the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, which has jurisdiction over the executors of wills, told Ott the county's financial proposal is far from guaranteed and the opponents' ideas are too little, too late.

Barnes, a pharmaceutical magnate, established the foundation in 1922 to teach populist methods of appreciating and evaluating art.

His collection has been housed since 1925 in a 23-room limestone gallery by French architect Paul Philippe Cret that features a Henri Matisse mural inside and Jacques Lipchitz reliefs on the exterior. Barnes died in a 1951 car crash.

Since getting the go-ahead to move, the Barnes has raised $150 million, including a $25 million grant from the state and millions more from three charitable foundations, to build a new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and establish an operating endowment.

Construction, however, has yet to begin. The city only last year struck a deal to move out of a juvenile jail that sits on the land that the Barnes will use for its new gallery.

--- (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-05-15-08 1543EDT