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Tug of war over Barnes paintings

September 22, 2004|Mike Boehm

Pennsylvania's top government attorney told a judge Tuesday that public access to the Barnes Foundation art collection would be jeopardized if the will of pharmaceuticals magnate Arthur C. Barnes isn't circumvented to allow his treasures to be moved from the suburban estate where they've been shown since his death in 1951.

The current trustees say the only way out of financial straits is to transfer the multibillion-dollar collection, including works by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Renoir, to a new downtown Philadelphia museum that would be built and funded with substantial help from three large charitable foundations.

At issue in a hearing expected to continue into next week in Montgomery County Orphans' Court is whether the fiscal predicament can be solved without going against Barnes' wish that his trove remain on the walls of an elegant gallery in Merion, Pa., in precisely the unorthodox way he devised. Students at the Barnes Foundation are trying to persuade Judge Stanley Ott that less drastic measures, such as selling real estate and art kept in storage, could solve the economic woes while keeping the display in its unique setting. Ott said Tuesday that he will hear all testimony, then issue a written decision within a month or two.

Delivering an opening statement, Atty. Gen. Jerry Pappert said that Barnes could not have envisioned the economic pressures that would result from placing his collection in a small town where access and revenues are limited. "Remaining in Merion is now clearly impractical, if not impossible," Pappert said, arguing that Barnes' larger purpose of displaying important art and educating the public would better be realized in a downtown museum where his gallery scheme could be duplicated.

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