While I was traveling last week there was a further blip in the ongoing struggle over the plan to uproot the Barnes Foundation from its home in Merion, Pa. and truck its art collection over to Philadelphia. On the arts blog of the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Knight, the Times art critic, burrowed into remarks that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell made Wednesday at the ceremonial ground breaking for what will be the Barnes new home on Ben Franklin Parkway in Philly.
What Knight noticed is that Rendell told the crowd that the idea to move the Barnes was first floated to him “14 or 15 years ago” — when Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia — by Ray Perelman, former board chairman of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This is interesting because the standard story line on the Barnes is that the move to Philadelphia, which would have horrified Albert Barnes, was made necessary by the budget crisis that overtook the place around 2000. But plainly the idea of relocating the Barnes (mostly) magnificent collection — all those Cezannes, Renoirs, Seurats, Matisses and Picassos — was being circulated by the powers that be in Philadelphia long before. As Knight points out, Perelman had already suggested the move in public as early as a 1995 gala to mark the return of the Barnes collection to Merion after it made a world tour. Rendell’s remarks last week move the idea back in time still further to 1993 or 94. In any event, it appears that for a long time the Barnes has been a jewel that Philadelphia was angling to grab.