The Barnes Foundation Declares That It Will Live On in Merion (But the Art Is Going to Philly)

The Barnes Foundation Declares That It Will Live On in Merion (But the Art Is Going to Philly)

"I want to assure neighbors, the Barnes Foundation is not leaving Merion," foundation executive director and president Derek Gillman told a crowd at the foundation on Sunday, at a 450-person "Barnes Community Day" officially meant to bid adieu to the suburban space that has displayed the late pharmaceutical magnate Albert C. Barnes's storied collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art for more than 85 years.


This pronouncement, made with the contentious July 3 closure date of the Foundation's Lower Merion home just around the bend, might have been music to the ears of foes of the foundation's move to more tourist-friendly Philadelphia, like the indefatigable Friends of the Barnes Foundation. But rather than marking a remarkable about-face, Gillman's declaration was seemingly an odd attempt to cushion the blow. "The art may be moving, but the Barnes is much more than an art collection.... We're keeping it here because we love this place," he said, according to the Main Line Times.


Essentially, what Gillman was in fact announcing was that the foundation would be investing more than $300,000 to "revitalize" the 12-acre arboretum on the grounds of the former Barnes Collection home. He went on to say that the former gallery building would continue to house the foundation's archives, which would be come "more accessible to scholars," and might even be repurposed in part as a conservation center for the collection. But the question remains, if a truly legendary collection of Renoirs, Cezannes and Picassos cannot pique the interest of the Merion community, will even the most well-kept of horticultural treasures draw in crowds?


Various last-ditch attempts to stall the five-mile move into Philly have been in the works, including a last-minute challenge to the 2004 court decision that first authorized the move, and even a publicity stunt by a pharmaceutical company that is recreating Barnes's fortune-earning "miracle" medicine and has promised to hand over a portion of its revenues to keep the art institution in the suburbs. During the Barnes Community Day celebrations, Gillman promised that none of these eleventh-hour tactics would pan out, and asserted that the institution is on track to reopen in its Tod Williams Billie Tsien-designed new home in late spring 2012.