Monday, October 20, 2008

Hiding in Plain Sight

Both Lee Rosenbaum and Richard Lacayo pick up on Christopher Knight's post last week on Gov. Rendell's comment that "I think it's been 14 or 15 years since Ray Perelman first came to me with this idea to move the Barnes." Lee is "suprised" by the statement: apparently, while "Perelman's feelings about the project have long been known," what "wasn't previously revealed so explicitly was his direct and early role in lobbying the Governor on behalf of the move." Richard says "it appears that for a long time the Barnes has been a jewel that Philadelphia was angling to grab," and he seems to think the Governor's comment is somehow inconsistent with "the standard story line ... that the move to Philadelphia ... was made necessary by the budget crisis that overtook the place around 2000."

I still don't see what all the excitement is about. As I said on Friday, I don't think anyone ever pretended that the Barnes's financial problems suddenly appeared "around 2000." The "pressing financial difficulties at the foundation" were certainly widely known well before then.

Similarly, Perelman's role in the process has never been a secret either. From a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer a few years ago (May 22, 2005, page A1, I can't seem to find a free link):

"The idea struck businessman Raymond Perelman on a blustery November night in 1995, as Philadelphia society toasted the reopening of the Barnes gallery after a world tour of 80 of its masterpieces. ... Perelman contemplated the breadth and depth of the collection, and a ... thought occurred to him: Why not move this fabulous art downtown, nearer the Art Museum, where more people could see it? ... Among the 500 others dining that night on lamb chops were many with whom he would share his vision."

Among those lamb-chop eating sharees of Perelman's vision were (1) Mike Fisher, who, "as state attorney general, would use his office to support the move," and (2) David L. Cohen, "then Mayor Ed Rendell's chief of staff." The Inquirer continues:

"Perelman would become chairman of the Philadelphia Art Museum in 1997 and share his vision with Rendell, who loved it. The mayor even picked a site: the Youth Study Center on the Parkway, an easy walk from the Art Museum. 'The seed was planted,' Perelman said recently. 'And once the seed was planted, it was growing.'"

Look, there are plenty of reasons for people to be upset about the Barnes move. (I posted some thoughts on the subject here.) But this latest game of "gotcha," based on Gov. Rendell's comment last week, strikes me as misguided.