Valuation of Barnes art and property still awaited by court When it will appear is "in their hands," the judge said. An approved expansion of the foundation's board is still pending.

Posted: April 09, 2004

The judge who will decide whether the Barnes Foundation can move its multibillion-dollar art collection from Lower Merion to Center City is still waiting for information from the foundation on the value of the artwork and land he may order it to sell.

Montgomery County Orphans' Court Judge Stanley Ott told the Barnes in January to determine whether selling some of its assets might raise enough money to let it keep its gallery where it is. The Barnes owns thousands of pieces of art that are not on display in the gallery, plus a 138-acre estate in Chester County.

Barnes chairman Bernard C. Watson and executive director Kimberly Camp refuse to say whether an appraiser has been hired to estimate the value of the non-gallery art and the real estate.

But Ott and Lawrence Barth, the senior deputy attorney general overseeing the case for the state, both said Barnes attorneys indicated at a Feb. 25 conference that they would have the information requested by the judge in time for another hearing in late spring or early summer.

The timing, the judge said in a recent interview, is "in their hands, when they are ready to go forward with additional information."

"Work is ongoing," Camp said. "We will submit when the work is completed."

At issue is the future of the Barnes' world-renowned collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and other art.

The foundation, pleading that bankruptcy was imminent, petitioned the court in September 2002 for permission to break the will of its founder, Albert C. Barnes, so it could move the art to Center City as well as broaden fund-raising possibilities by expanding its board from five to 15 members. Albert Barnes died in 1951 and left instructions that the gallery remain where it is, but his endowment was exhausted in the 1990s.

Terrance A. Kline, the attorney for three art students fighting to keep the art in Lower Merion and to maintain the Barnes' educational mission, attended the Feb. 25 conference, which was not open to the public.

According to Kline, the judge said he wanted anything not hanging in the gallery to be appraised. Camp told the judge that she would rather not hire the international art auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's to appraise the artwork, but would prefer to use an independent appraiser.

"Judge Ott said, value everything," Kline said. ". . . We will be monitoring the valuation process carefully and taking whatever steps are necessary to assure the appropriate values are ascribed to the assets."

Rebecca Rimel, president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is backing the proposed Barnes move, said the Barnes had created a working group to address the judge's order. She would not say who is in the group.

"I think the fact that you got no comment from the chair of the Barnes board, from the lawyers, and the like, it would just be inappropriate for me to go there," Rimel said.

Among the dozens of paintings in storage at the Barnes are several by Chaim Soutine, whose paintings have sold in recent years for $2.1 million to $2.5 million; William Glackens, whose paintings have sold for $1 million and $1.7 million; Maurice Brazil Prendergast, whose paintings have sold for $1.9 million to $3.5 million; and one by Gustave Courbet, whose paintings have sold for $2.2 million to $3.0 million.

Camp testified at the December hearing that she had received offers as high as $12 million for Ker-Feal, Albert Barnes' country estate in Chester County.

But Camp has made it clear that the Barnes does not want to sell any art or real estate.

Neighbors of Ker-Feal also do not want the Barnes to sell the estate. They recently held a fund-raising event aiming to help the Barnes restore and preserve the property and avoid a sale.

"We don't consider that a possibility at all," Camp said when asked recently about selling Ker-Feal. "In the will, Barnes says he leaves Ker-Feal . . . as a living museum of art and a botanical garden. So that is what we intend to do with it."

Another unresolved matter is the proposed expansion of the Barnes board from five to 15 members. While seeking more information before ruling on the Barnes' proposal to move, in January Ott granted the foundation permission to expand the board immediately, but it has not done so.

The death in February of Jeff R. Donaldson, the only art expert on the board, has left it with four members.

Camp said the board had "no time frame" for expanding. Lincoln University, to which Albert Barnes granted the right to nominate four of five board members, will have the right to nominate five members of the expanded 15-member board. It is preparing a list of nominees.

"We're working on putting our recommendations together," Lincoln board chair Frank C. Gihan said. "I don't want to just send candidates and nominees and have them float there, so I am waiting for a word from Bernie, 'This is what our board has decided in the size of the board and in requesting the nominees.' We are lining up candidates."

Gihan said he expected the Barnes to expand the board by the fall.

The Barnes art students who are fighting the proposed changes are hoping to persuade the judge to put a Barnes student on the board. "There ought to be a voice for art education on the board," Kline said.

Barth, the deputy attorney general, said he was not sure that the Barnes would expand its board if it did not win permission to move to Philadelphia.

"The whole premise was that this was a package deal," he said. "I do not know if the Barnes expected that it would get partial relief in its petition."

Contact staff writer Patricia Horn at 215-854-2560 or phorn@phillynews.com.

Staff writer Reid Kanaley contributed to this article.

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