New idea for stored artworks The Barnes Foundation wants to lend them. The gallery foresees $500,000 in profits by 2003.

Posted: April 02, 2001

MERION — Seeking to raise badly needed funds and expand public exposure to its collection, the Barnes Foundation is asking for court approval to lend some of its stored and archived paintings and artifacts to museums and institutions elsewhere.

The potentially controversial request is reminiscent of the foundation's contentious but successful bid in the early 1990s to win court permission for a lucrative world tour of its most famous impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces.

Although this petition - limited solely to works stored outside the public gallery - is far more modest, it grapples with many of the same questions of donor intent that arose in earlier proceedings in Montgomery County Court.

Before his death in 1951, Albert C. Barnes established guidelines for his organization that obligate future administrators to keep "all the paintings . . . in exactly the places they are at the time of the death of the donor."

When granting permission for the world tour in 1992, the presiding judge determined that a pressing need to renovate the foundation gallery was enough to override that intention.

In this petition, the foundation contends that Barnes' command to leave the paintings where they are does not apply to the stored works, and that keeping them locked away and unavailable to the public runs counter to the foundation's mission.

The Barnes petition, filed in early March, says: "Extending the indenture's 'no movement' and 'no loan' provisions to reach all the way to these non-gallery paintings is at odds with Dr. Barnes' treatment of them during his lifetime, defies common sense and contradicts Dr. Barnes' intent that all his collected works of art be used to promote art education and appreciation."

Almost none of the paintings, vases, fine rugs, ancient Greek and Roman artifacts and other works outside the public gallery have been seen publicly in 50 years. Many of the paintings are hanging in administrative offices; others are stashed in basement storage bins. In many cases, the environmental conditions are less than ideal.

The state Attorney General's Office, which represents the public's interest in court cases involving charitable trusts such as the Barnes, must file a response to the petition by Friday. Although the office has not reached a conclusive opinion, it is likely to support the petition, said Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Barth, who oversees charitable trusts.

"According to the Barnes petition, it's not inconsistent with the indenture, and to the extent it gets the materials out to where the public can enjoy them, then I think it would be beneficial to the Barnes Foundation and the public at large," Barth said.

At least one former student of the Barnes' education program disagrees.

Nicholas M. Tinari, who often has criticized foundation attempts to expand beyond traditional operations, wrote in a letter to Barth that lending the stored works would violate the indenture, risk damaging the art and, perhaps most severely, open the paintings up to possible sale.

Tinari believes the foundation should cut costs before exploring revenue-enhancing approaches that could violate the Barnes indenture.

But Barnes executive director Kimberly Camp and the board of trustees are moving in the opposite direction, aggressively courting donors and seeking new sources of revenue.

While foundation leaders do not expect a financial windfall from lending or touring the stored works, their five-year strategic plan calls for $500,000 in profits from the art by 2003.

It is unclear just how much demand there would be among museums and other showcases for the stored Barnes art. While there are significant paintings in storage - including paintings by artists such as Gustave Courbet, William Glackens, Jules Pascin and Chaim Soutine - the foundation's most highly regarded art is already hanging in its public gallery.

Patrick Kerkstra's e-mail address is pkerkstra@phillynews.com.

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