Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection

Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection

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by John Anderson
     
 

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The battle for control of America's greatest private art collection.

Overview

The battle for control of America's greatest private art collection.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
In 1951, the endowment of the Barnes Foundation was $9 million, equivalent to about $62 million today. Corruption, bungling, greed and changing financial standards have depleted it; now, there is no endowment left. Art Held Hostage -- a morality play masquerading as a legal thriller -- tells us what went wrong. Part of the problem was Barnes's indenture, which mandated investment only in government securities; its terms were responsible for the endowment's contraction by about 80 percent (in inflation-adjusted terms). But the total depletion of the museum's coffers owes much to the interplay of racial, local and personal politics. — Andrew Solomon
Publishers Weekly
Dr. Albert Barnes pulled himself out of poverty at a young age, eventually becoming a pharmaceutical tycoon and snapping up art treasures during Depression fire sales. At the end of his combative life, Barnes, who changed his will to match his mercurial moods, left the collection not to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, but to Lincoln University, a once-acclaimed African-American institution that had produced graduates such as Langston Hughes before seeing its reputation and enrollment decline. Located in the Main Line suburb of Philadelphia, the collection is currently worth more than $6 billion and contains masterworks by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse. A deputy editor of American Lawyer magazine, Anderson turns his keen eye to the struggle for power over the collection that has been waged since Barnes's death in 1951. At the center of the conflict is lawyer Richard Glanton, who as president of the Barnes during the 1990s launched a costly lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against the township that houses the collection, put paintings from the collection on tour despite Barnes's "no tour" clause to his gift and pondered the once unthinkable tactic of selling paintings from the collection to raise additional funds. Glanton's one-time ally in behind-the-scenes power plays, Lincoln University president Niara Sudarkasa, found herself helming an institution unprepared for the responsibilities of the collection and was later embroiled in her own legal troubles stemming from spending practices at the university. Through detailed storytelling and insightful interviews with key players (shown in 16 pages of b&w photos), Anderson vividly depicts the downfall of now-enemies Glanton and Sudarkasa and the devastating financial impact of their power struggles on the foundation itself. Anyone interested in the intersection of art, race and power politics will find this tale engrossing-and depressing. East Coast author tour. (May) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this fast-paced legal drama, Anderson (deputy editor, The American Lawyer magazine) describes how the world-renowned private collection of impressionist and postimpressionist works once owned by Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was "held hostage" while its overseeing foundation was brought to the brink of bankruptcy. The foundation's charter restricted access to the collection, worth more than $6 billion, and stipulated that the artworks not be moved from their places in the Merion, PA, galleries. Here, Anderson principally recounts how Richard H. Glanton, the Barnes Board of Trustees president (1990-98), largely shaped the foundation's fate as he furthered his personal and professional objectives. Envisioning a renaissance, this corporate lawyer sent some 80 paintings on a blockbuster international tour, raised more than $16 million for renovating physical facilities, and printed an exhibition catalog. At the same time, he precariously indebted the foundation to lawyers, consultants, contractors, and special interests. Lacking footnotes, bibliography, and an index but sufficiently crediting sources, this expos helps readers understand the predicament, as the foundation's trustees await trial to determine whether the several thousand art works can be relocated to Center City Philadelphia. Strongly recommended for large public libraries and those specializing in arts administration, law, and business.-Cheryl Ann Lajos, Free Lib. of Philadelphia Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
American Lawyer deputy editor Anderson chronicles the legal contests over the administration of America’s largest private art collection. The author begins with a fair portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, amasser of the famous Barnes Collection and creator of the eponymous foundation charged with its preservation. Barnes received his medical degree at 20 and went on to wrest control of a pharmaceutical company that owned exclusive rights to manufacture an internationally prescribed gonorrhea medicine. (His signature style throughout his life was to hire first-rate legal counsel and pursue his litigious course until he got what he wanted.) Barnes’s fortune, preserved through the Depression, permitted the assembly of a fabulous collection that included 180 Renoirs; it’s currently valued at six billion dollars. Just before his death in 1951, the doctor changed the terms of the foundation’s indenture, granting control to the trustees of Lincoln College, the oldest black college in America, setting the stage for a long round of disputes. While the collection gained tremendously in value over the next four decades, the size of the endowment that paid for the upkeep of the French Renaissance palace that housed it dwindled through mismanagement. In the 1990s, foundation president Richard H. Glanton, a high-profile African-American lawyer, oversaw the galleries’ renovation and undertook the expensive litigation responsible for bringing the foundation to the edge of ruin. Anderson describes these conflicts in a work that by his own admission is "a legal tale" rather than a scholarly biography or a work of art history. The absence of footnotes, he explains, springs from the desire of his best sourcesto remain anonymous. That’s not surprising, considering the rancor all this legal wrangling has generated, including a lawsuit over a parking lot instituted in federal court that invoked the Ku Klux Klan Act. Clear journalistic prose makes sense of the befuddling legal entanglements in an ongoing battle that has become notorious in the art world and beyond. (16 illustrations) Agent: Kristine Dahl/ICM
New York Times Book Review
“A morality play masquerading as a legal thriller tells us what went wrong [at the Barnes].”
Wall Street Journal
“A chronicle of chaos, [containing] one mind-boggling revelation after another.”
Philip Kennicott - Washington Post
“Excellent…A substantial work of reporting and historical research.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393048896
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
05/06/2003
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

John Anderson is the author of three works of nonfiction, including Burning Down the House, which won the Myers Award for outstanding book on race relations in America. He lives in Ossining, New York.

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Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
La_Leche More than 1 year ago
One of the most telling and amusing lines in Art Held Hostage is uttered by Richard Glanton, the Barnes Foundation's former president and the litigious centerpiece of John Anderson's story. In an indignant letter to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Glanton wrote: "If you intend to do what you have done in the past, endeavoring to besmirch my reputation and cast doubts and innuendoes about my leadership, you shall be held to the same standard you are held to when you write about other cultural institutions in Philadelphia." Glanton may have fancied himself a "cultural institution" - he once even said "I was the Barnes Foundation" - but he was hardly that. As the snippet above reveals, Glanton, a lawyer, comes across as a bully, an egomaniac, a conniver, and a shameless self-promoter. It isn't even clear he was especially interested in art. But in John Anderson's detailed, nuanced and engrossing account, Glanton, who also described himself as "the best politician you'll ever meet," was interested in power, and the Barnes as a means to that end. As Glanton himself stated when asked what the politicking at the Barnes was really about: "About who controls four-and-a-half billion dollars worth of art." Today, of course, the collection is valued at much more - $25 billion - and the politicking has resulted in an apparent victory for the forces that would move the Barnes to downtown Philadelphia. Having just seen the collection in the serene and charmingly idiosyncratic setting in which Dr. Barnes intended it to be seen, however, I can only bemoan that lamentable result.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago