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The Barnes Foundation and Gov. Ed Rendell

October 17, 2008 | 10:30 am

Barnes_foundation_cezanne_renoir If you thought the financial crisis facing the Barnes Foundation circa 2000 was the reason that the irreplaceable school with the amazing Post-Impressionist and early Modern art collection was being uprooted from its rightful suburban home and moved to a quasi-museum in downtown Philadelphia, you haven't been paying attention.

Of course, you could be forgiven for that. The Barnes saga is nothing if not long, tangled and rife with smoke-filled back rooms where strings were pulled and shady deals struck.

A small nugget, however, was buried in Wednesday's ceremonial ground-breaking for the Barnes Foundation's controversial new home on the Ben Franklin Parkway. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

"I think it's been 14 or 15 years since [art patron] Ray Perelman first came to me with this idea to move the Barnes," Gov. [Ed] Rendell noted during his remarks. He announced yesterday that the state was raising its contribution to the project from $25 million to $30 million.

Barnesologists (not to be confused with Kremlinologists or mixologists) take note: Near as I can tell, that's the first official declaration that the move -- or, as Barnes chronicler John Anderson once called it in the Wall Street Journal, the “legal theft” -- of the collection has been in the works since 1993 or 1994. Also new is that Rendell, then mayor of Philadelphia, is taking credit (or assuming blame).

That the idea was first pushed by Perelman, former board chairman at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has long been known. He floated it to guests at the gala 1995 dinner celebrating the return of the collection to suburban Merion, following its controversial world tour.

At least one person was apoplectic about Rendell's, er, ground-breaking remarks. Mark D. Schwartz, the voluble attorney originally hired (but later fired) by opponents of the move, shot off a blistering letter to the governor. Read it after the jump.

October 16, 2008

Edward G. Rendell, Governor
The Commonwealth of PA.
Room 225
Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

        Re: Kudos on Your Taking Credit for the Barnes Move

Dear Ed:

    I always appreciate a politician who is candid, especially those who are candid to a fault. Take for example your quote in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer: “I think it’s been 14 or 15 years since [art patron] Ray Perelman first came to me with this idea to move the Barnes.”

    As the attorney who filed the Petition to Reopen the Barnes Proceedings in the Orphans Court of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, I must tell you that your public remarks go the distance in validating that Petition that the Court did not want to consider.  You made short shrift of the Barnes’ Foundation phony argument of a sudden lack of funds and change of circumstances. You and I both know that this was a well coordinated heist.

    With the help of some significant others, your successful breaking the terms of what Dr Barnes’ legally put in place is seen as a travesty in Estates and Trusts circles across the country. But then again, those folks aren’t amongst your one true constituency, your fundraisers. What you orchestrated portrays Pennsylvania as a place where political machinations, interlocking relationships and the misuse of taxpayer money overcame the rule of law. The question remains whether what happened here will be seen as a horrendous aberration or precedent setting. But then again, you probably don’t lose any sleep over that issue.

          So, please let me extend my congratulations to you and your cronies. I am only sorry that I was not afforded the opportunity to elicit this same testimony from you on the witness stand. Perhaps some day on this or something else……………..

                        Cheers,   

                         Mark D. Schwartz

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Reuters

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