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Art of the Steal

New Barnes Building Opens, Why People are Upset

by Whitney Kimball on May 16, 2012
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After years of controversy and legal battles, the Philadelphia-based Barnes Collection has moved. Its initiator, pharmaceuticals mogul Albert C. Barnes, who died in 1951, clearly stipulated in his will that none of the work should leave its salon-style installation in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. Barnes left behind one of the most significant late 19th and early 20th century art collections in the world; by 2004, the Foundation reported severe financial and maintenance problems and planned its move to the new building in downtown Philadelphia, next to the Rodin Museum. A judge ordered that the arrangement be replicated in the new building, and, according to Justin Davidson and Jerry Saltz, the new museum actually allows visitors to see the work, which was difficult in the dark and crowded old house. “Owners are temporary caretakers,” Jerry Saltz points out– so if we’re much better able to view a few thousand artworks, including 181 Renoirs, 69 C├ęzannes, 59 Matisses, and 44 Picassos, and it’s still hung the same, then why worry about the demands of a dead rich guy?

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