Friday, October 17, 2008

I guess it depends on how you define "sudden"

Christopher Knight finds it significant that, at Wednesday's ground-breaking ceremony, Gov. Rendell mentioned that "it's been 14 or 15 years since [art patron] Ray Perelman first came to me with this idea to move the Barnes." The implication seems to be that this revelation is inconsistent with the official story told by supporters of the move -- namely, that "the financial crisis facing the Barnes Foundation circa 2000 was the reason ... [it] was being uprooted from its rightful suburban home and moved to ... downtown Philadelphia" (or, as a former lawyer for opponents of the move put it in a "blistering" letter to Rendell which Knight quotes in his post, the remarks "made short shrift of the Barnes’ Foundation phony argument of a sudden lack of funds").

But I've certainly always had the impression that the financial difficulties started long before 2000. In fact, there was almost never a time when the Barnes wasn't in financial trouble. This LA Times article, for instance, points out that "the Barnes endowment, $10 million in 1951, was so poorly invested that it was still $10 million almost four decades later." And here's a piece, from 1991, by Michael Kimmelman that begins: "Its famous collection of paintings must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but the budget from the Barnes Foundation's $10 million endowment barely covers the cost of keeping open its deteriorating galleries for a few days each week." The then-president of the foundation wondered aloud about "trying to undo Dr. Barnes's stricture against selling works from the collection, so that pressing financial difficulties at the foundation could be quickly addressed": "The restoration and modernization of the building that houses the collection of some 1,000 works is only one of the urgent problems. The roughly $10 million endowment, which Mr. Glanton says produces an annual budget of about $1 million, cannot begin to solve these problems."

Given that history, I don't know why anyone would be surprised to learn that people were talking about a possible move in the mid-90's.