“I just got a serious scoop from the hairdresser,” I tell my husband as I walk into our hotel room.
“Ok?” he says, not even trying to hide his lack of interest.
“I mentioned I wanted to visit a few museums while we’re in Philly and he raised an eyebrow and asked out the side of his mouth (I try to recreate the effect) if I plan to go to the Barnes Museum. He made me so nervous I just said no.”
“Why? Isn’t that the one our dentist said we had to visit?”
We have a hilarious and elegantly old school dentist. We love him so much he attended our wedding. He has a voice similar to Snagglepuss from the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but don’t tell him I said so.
You must go to the Barnes Museum. We drove down for the opening-it’s magnificent, splendiferous even.
“So what’s the story?” my husband asks to bring me back into the room.
“Well, bear in mind I haven’t fact checked or google searched any of this-plus I don’t think I can recall all of it accurately. So, this is strictly salon gossip,” I pause.
“What’s the story?”
Ok, this man Barnes had a tough life-grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, etc. He made his fortune because he invented acetaminophen, maybe? Something like that. In the era of Gertrude Stein, the height of French Impressionism, he had a lot of money and decided to collect art-a lot of art, thirty billion dollars worth of art. Maybe less, I can’t remember. He sequestered this art in a museum he built specifically around the collection outside Philadelphia. In fact, the building was SO specific it was actually built around a painting-I think by Manet. Barnes decided to only make this collection accessible to children who attended a specific school; it was not to be viewed by the public. MOST importantly-he did not want his collection to fall into the hands of the Philadelphia art world.
“Why not?” my husband interrupted.
I guess he thought they were a bunch of uppity so and so’s. Oh-there was also something about Annenberg. They got into an argument one night. I think Barnes told Annenberg he shouldn’t be so snooty because everyone knew his grandfather made all of his money in the mafia. Apparently this was common knowledge, but Annenberg never spoke to Barnes again.
Oo! Wait. When Barnes died he had no heirs and a will that stated two things:
1-His art is for this nice school.
2-The art must NEVER, EVER, EVER be moved into the city of Philadelphia.
Over time the school couldn’t afford to take care of the art any longer. The state of Pennsylvania said, ‘Hey, we’ll give you the money if you give us the art.’ This is how the will was broken and the public is now able to view the art.
“Wait, I thought the Barnes Museum was in Philadelphia?”
It is. Our dentist attended the opening of the new space in Philly last year. AND- guess who’s primarily responsible not just for breaking the will, but also for funding the move? The Annenberg Foundation, even. In conclusion-my hairdresser is boycotting the museum.
No, I booked tickets on my walk back to the hotel.
For more in-depth (correct) information on the Barnes click here.
While I’m sorry Mr. Barnes’ final wishes were not honored-I am glad I was able to view so many fabulous paintings displayed so meaningfully. It was an unforgettable experience-however it came to be.
Photographs were strictly prohibited inside the museum. For a lovely slide show from the NYTimes click here.
Our next stop was Pittsburgh.