In 1922, Dr. Albert Barnes formed an influential private art collection with the intention to share it with the community. He wanted other people besides the wealthy to be able to experience and enjoy the arts. When he moved to Lower Merion after starting a successful pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia, his art collection went with him. His gallery remains there as part of the Barnes Foundation and art school.
However, because the Barnes Foundation has been facing a constant financial struggle of survival at its current location, controversy has ensued over debates to move the collection to Philadelphia. Recently, courts overruled the stipulations of Barnes’ will that were meant to keep the art school the Foundation’s primary identity, which limited the viewing public and said that the collection must remain in its place in Merion.
With the gallery’s eminent move to Central Philadelphia and its appointment of a new director, the controversy continues on whether or not the Barnes Foundation can stay alive.
I think that the move to the Ben Franklin Parkway is a chance for the gallery to stay alive financially and aesthetically. The move is necessary to preserve and honor its pieces, which include numerous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pieces of art, as well as African, Native American, and Chinese antiquities.
The Barnes Foundation has raised over $150 million to relocate the museum’s countless Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso pieces. The Merion location cannot bring in the number of visitors in order to sustain the collection. Currently only 1,200 people can visit the Barnes on certain hours and by advance notice.
After Kimberly Camp’s resignation from the Barnes Foundation, a new director was needed to grow with its new location. An international search was conducted to find the perfect candidate for director. With over 130 potentials, Joseph Neubauer was the head of this Search Committee and had his work cut out for him. After the search was narrowed, Derek Gillman stood out, and was chosen as the right man for the job. Gillman will be taking over at the Barnes Foundation in mid-October, as he transitions from his current position as President at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Although Gillman hails from England, he has spent seven years of local experience at the Academy. He has a Master of Arts degree from Oxford and a Master of Laws degree from the University of Anglia. Gillman has an extensive background in art management, and has served in many art institutions around the world. Although Gillman is leaving the Academy, he is leaving on good terms.
As a compromise, The Barnes Foundation’s Lower Merion location will still maintain the arboretum and offer horticulture classes; but the gallery’s move into Central Philadelphia will also relocate the foundation’s art classes. Dr. Albert Barnes’ sanctuary of art is one of the most prominent in the world. Its new location will hopefully increase attendance, funding, and hopefully maintain Barnes’ original vision even if it defied his wishes. If readers would like to support the Barnes Foundation, its new location and new director, they should visit the gallery’s current location in Lower Merion. Be sure to embrace Dr. Albert Barnes’ motto of using art as an educational tool.