The new Barnes Foundation museum has just opened in Philadelphia, and now comes a startling comment from a former Barnes executive: No financial crisis really existed when trustees went to court a decade ago to ask permission to build a new museum.
Desperate financial need was widely claimed as a leading reason for the still-controversial decision to move the astounding trove of paintings by Cézanne, Matisse, Seurat and dozens more from their historically incomparable home in suburban Merion, Pa., to a big, shiny new tourist-site downtown. A local court agreed to what had been portrayed as a heroic rescue effort based on urgent financial necessity.
Kimberly Camp, who actively supported the move, was president and chief executive of the Barnes from 1998 to 2005 when the fight took place. She's writing a book on the move and surrounding controversy. Camp winds up a recent blog post on her website with this observation -- which she accurately characterizes as jaw-dropping -- that reflects on her visit to the May dedication of the new museum:
"The Barnes has always belonged in Merion. Its circumstance required its relocation. That circumstance was not bankruptcy. I shared that fact with a reporter a few weeks before the opening, and he told me that I had dropped his jaw. Bankruptcy was not the reason we filed the petition to move the Foundation to the city. At the time the petition was filed, the Barnes Foundation had a cash surplus and we had no debt -- none. But, saying so made the rescue so much more gallant."