Interior of the Barnes Foundation’s original location (image from

On February 17, a new move was made to keep Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation in its original home, reports the Main Line Times. Based on accusations of political misconduct uncovered through documentary footage, lawyers for the Friends of the Barnes Foundation are asking a judge to reopen the case that ruled in favor of the Barnes moving to a new location in center city.

A petition has been filed with Montgomery County Orphan’s Court Judge Stanley R. Ott, “asking him to reopen his 2004 decision to permit the gallery to move its priceless art collection to a new facility in Philadelphia.” The previously ruled decision would allow the Barnes Foundation to leave its location in Merion, PA to a new proposed location close to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The move, some say, would violate the wishes of Barnes Foundation founder Albert C. Barnes and endanger the integrity of a collection that includes some of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the United States.

The new petition filed by Friends of the Barnes cites “indication of misconduct on the part of Pennsylvania Attorney General Michael Fisher,” during the time of the first hearings on the Barnes’s proposed move. Fisher failed to maintain a neutral position in regard to the Barnes Foundation. Footage from the 2009 documentary on the Barnes case The Art of the Steal shows Fisher commenting that he had “participated in discussions with Lincoln University,” the entity that largely takes responsibility for the Barnes’ collection, attempting to convince them to “drop legal opposition” to the Barnes Foundation’s move to center city.

Main Line Times also has details on the incriminating evidence:

Regarding discussions Fisher had with the university, the petition states that he “threatened the board of Lincoln University with action to change the complexion of the board,”… It refers to comments Fisher made in “The Art of the Steal,” suggesting that he would “play the role of the bad cop and the governor was to play the role of the good cop” in dealing with the university.

A rendering of the new Barnes Foundation by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien (image from

As the only other legal party in the court case to decide the fate of the Barnes Foundation’s move, the university held a great deal of influence on the case. Can this breach of political boundaries make for a fair and legal decision? More than $50 million has been pledged and construction already begun for the new Barnes Foundation building, but this possible reopening of the case brings a whole new angle to the proceedings.

A spokesman for acting Attorney General William H. Ryan Jr. called the allegations “completely without merit,” while Fisher, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment, reports The Mercury. “This is a cheap and desperate attack,” Ryan says, “The attorney general has always acted appropriately to protect the public. We’ve never misled the court or the public, and we’ll vigorously defend our actions against this kind of attack.”

Dialogue seems divided between hardliners who want the Barnes preserved just as it is and those who see the new building as an improvement in infrastructure and public access to the museum itself.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

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