Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Yesterday's hearing, widely seen as a formality, was attended by perhaps two dozen quiet members of the public"

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Stephan Salisbury reports that "the Philadelphia Art Commission gave final approval yesterday to plans for the new Barnes Foundation gallery, clearing the way for the renowned collection of early modernist art to move from Merion to the Parkway in 2012 after years of impassioned controversy." Lee Rosenbaum has more, including a link to the design plans.

Kate Taylor has a story on the Barnes progress in the January Art Newspaper. In the same issue, art dealer Richard Feigen has a piece in the Barnes-was-stolen genre. He calls it "the biggest heist in history," a "kidnapping," an "abduction." I think the "theft" narrative is a little melodramatic -- Salisbury offers a persuasive counter-narrative here; see also here -- but, for the moment, I want to focus on two points in Feigen's essay:

1. As part of his argument why the Barnes could have stayed in Merion, he says that "shuttle-buses could run continuously from the Philadelphia Museum, a short 4.6 miles away." This point -- the closeness of the new location to the old -- is also emphasized in the Barnes documentary that's about to open, but doesn't it actually cut the other way? The new location is only 4.6 miles away. What's the big deal? Buses could continuously shuttle all the art lovers in Merion to the new museum!

As has been noted many times before, the works will be hung exactly as they were in the old space. The argument that the move -- a short 4.6 mile shuttle-bus ride away -- is a tragedy depends on the notion that, despite all of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien's good work, despite the fact that the galleries will be reproduced exactly as they were and the works will be hung exactly as they were, and despite the additional fact that many more people will get to see the works in the new location, something so valuable is lost in the move up the road that it justifies all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

I just don't see it. A mistake? Perhaps. But I just don't see the tragedy. (And I suppose I should add here the usual caveat that I thought the museum should have stayed where it is.)

2. The other thing I wanted to mention was the following statement by Feigen: "Insufficient effort has been made to sell the redundant real estate of Barnes’s valuable farm, its 19th-century American pottery collection or unrestricted paintings in the offices, which have been appraised at more than $30m."

That's the first I've heard of any "unrestricted paintings." (Is the pottery collection also "unrestricted"?) Does anyone know what he's referring to?

And more importantly: would that be okay with the Deaccession Police?