The Art of the Steal

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A
moving story of the greatest theft of private property by the state
and its powerful allies in the civic and charitable community.

It
is my dream to create an art which is filled with balance, purity
and calmness, freed from a subject matter that is disconcerting
or too attention-seeking. In my paintings, I wish to create a spiritual
remedy, similar to a comfortable armchair which provides rest from
physical expectation for the spiritually working, the businessman
as well as the artist. ~ Henri Matisse

The
dream of the artist Henri Matisse was embodied in the art collection
of Dr. Albert C. Barnes and the Barnes Foundation. The Barnes Foundation
(founded in 1922) located in Merion Pennsylvania about 5 miles outside
Philadelphia is home (and I literally mean home) to some of the
greatest art treasures in the modern world, Matisse, Renoir, Cézzane,
Picaso, van Gogh, Monet to name just a few. It is estimated to be
worth $25–$35 billion and considered the world's greatest collection
of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Early Modern art. The collection
includes such great works as The Portrait of the Postman Joseph
Roulin (van Gogh), The Card Players (Cézanne)
and The Joy of Life (Matisse). Dr. Barnes was one of the
few collectors that viewed African Art not as primitive cultural
artifacts but as works of art equal to the great works of Europe.
To think of Dr. Barnes as simply an art lover or collector does
not do him justice. Dr. Barnes understood what Matisse was searching
for in his dreams — balance, purity, calmness, a spiritual remedy
for businessman as well as the artist. Dr. Barnes built his Foundation
and displayed his art (and it was his art) in his house organized
not by artist or subject but by the aesthetic and spiritual connection
between the pieces. A van Gogh is hung next to a door lock, a piece
of furniture or an African sculpture. The rooms are comfortable
so one can pause for any length and contemplate the great works.
The site is adorned with beautiful gardens and located in a serene
neighborhood in Lower Merion, PA. Unfortunately, in 2012 it will
all be gone. The
Art Of The Steal
is a riveting movie that shows how the
state and its powerful allies in the art and charitable establishment
trample the private property rights of the individual who in the
words of the great artist Matisse created "the only sane place
to see art in America."

Dr.
Barnes himself is a classic example of the power of free markets.
He was born into poverty and grew up in the low income neighborhoods
around Philadelphia. He financed his college education by boxing
professionally. He became a chemist and physician, invented and
patented Argyrol, a substitute for Silver Nitrate, which, at the
time was put in the eyes of every baby born in the USA to prevent
venereal disease (an unintended consequence of war). He made his
fortune in pharmaceuticals and used his fortune to gather the world's
greatest collection of early and post-modern art. In 1923 he displayed
seventy-five paintings including works of Soutine, Picasso, Chirico,
and Matisse at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. The art
and Dr. Barnes were excoriated by the Philadelphia art establishment,
mainly the powerful Philadelphia Inquirer owned by Moses
Annenberg (the father of Walter Annenberg who later in life established
the "The Annenberg Foundation" one of the key players
in the state confiscation of Dr. Barnes private property). His experience
left him bitter and hostile towards the Philadelphia art establishment
and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Another event had a great
influence on Dr. Barnes decision to move the art out of Philadelphia.
John G Johnson, an attorney to some of the most powerful men in
the world including J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie was the owner
of a substantial art collection himself. He died on April 14, 1917
and donated his collection to the citizens of Philadelphia but directed
that the art be preserved in his home on S. Broadstreet in Philadelphia.
A few years later The Philadelphia Museum of Art opened a new neo-classical
wing and needed art to fill it. By 1933 the museum came up with
an "extraordinary reason" to move the collection. In 1921
the city of Philadelphia convinced the Orphan's Court (with the
full backing of the Philadelphia Inquirer) that the paintings
were threatened because Johnson's home was not fireproof. The home
was condemned and the art moved to the museum under the stipulation
the museum honor the remaining provisions of the will to keep the
collection together (in 1989 the museum convinced the court to allow
them to break up the collection for a "more unified presentation").
Barnes witnessed this in 1933 and vowed they (the Philadelphia art
establishment, socialites and politicians of Philadelphia) would
never get a hold of his collection — unfortunately Dr. Barnes underestimated
the power of the state. Dr. Barnes was killed in 1951 in a car crash
(was it an accident?). This left the Barnes Foundation in the hands
of Violette de Mazia who was Director of Education. During her life
the Barnes Foundation stayed true to Dr. Barnes’s Will and Testament,
it stayed in Merion and was used primarily to educate. The public
could view the collection but only during limited hours. Unfortunately,
Barnes had no children so when Mrs. de Mazia died the Barnes Trust
was put in the hands of Lincoln University a small, private all
black college located in Pennsylvania and placed under the control
of a 5-member board (as per Dr. Barnes will). Later Lincoln University
became a state school that was chronically under funded. Yet, under
the direction of Franklin Williams (the Lincoln Trustee), and an
outside advisory board of art experts, the conditions of the Barnes
Trust were honored. Around 1990 Williams died of cancer. Now the
question becomes who appoints board members (or as Lenin put it
"who whom"). This is when the wheels were set in motion
by powerful forces in Philadelphia, the art establishment and the
state of Pennsylvania to steal the collection from the Barnes Foundation
"for the public good" and move it out of Merion to Philadelphia.
At this point the movie plays out like a great Hollywood crime mystery
with state institutions and individual politicians playing the villains.
The movie chronicles in great detail the chain of events that led
to a complete and utter disregard for private property rights. I
am no Constitutional lawyer, but this may be the most extreme and
egregious case in American history of state violation of private
property rights.

The
movie was directed and produced by Don Argott and Sheena Joyce.
It was funded by Lenny Feinberg (a student of The Barnes Foundation
and wealthy real estate investor). Mr Feinberg said he "stewed"
when he heard the foundation’s collection was being moved to Philadelphia
which explicitly goes against Dr. Barnes 1951 will, which stated
that "the foundation shall always be an educational institute,
and the paintings shall never be removed, sold or loaned."
Supporters formed "The Friends of the Barnes Foundation"
in late 2004 after the ruling of the Montgomery County Orphan's
Court granting permission for — but not mandating — the Board of
Trustees of the Barnes Foundation to move the institution's art
collection to the city of Philadelphia. One of the supporters, Nick
Tinari (A Barnes attorney) is interviewed between shouts of "Philistines"
and "have fun now — wait until it's your will" at people
attending a museum event celebrating the move of the Barnes collection
to Philadelphia. My only criticism of the movie is that it does
not verbally make a stronger use of the constitutional argument
for private property rights and often comes off as critical of capitalism
when it shouldn’t. After all, it was capitalism that provided the
wealth Dr. Barnes used to purchase these great art pieces. But,
this is a minor criticism. The story itself is a powerful reminder
of the corruption of the state. From the abuse of civil rights laws
(the powerful interests sued the neighbors of the Barnes Foundation
using the Federal Ku Klux Klan Act), the unholy alliance between
the state and powerful "public charitable" trusts headed
by the Pew Foundation, power seeking individuals and corrupt politicians
(including the "dishonorable" Governor Edward G. Rendell
who does his pathetic best to defend the state). This is a story
that every freedom loving Libertarian needs to know. There are so
many lessons to be learned from this event that a short review simply
cannot do justice to it. The movie is well done and the story is
riveting. I can think of no better vehicle for teaching why the
framers of the Constitution were so adamant that a free and just
society respects private property rights and coercive tyrants don’t.
The dream of Matisse was realized in the art collected by a private
individual and destroyed by the nightmare of state abuse.

Steven
Woskow [send him mail] received
his B.S. from California State University Chico, Masters from Utah
State University and Ph.D. from Iowa State University in Food Science
and Nutrition. He is the co-founder of a Biotechnology company that
developed microbiological based products for animal agriculture
(alternatives to antibiotics and biological solutions for the treatment
of animal waste). In 2008 the company was sold and now Dr. Woskow
works as a private consultant. He is a native Californian and lives
with his wife Susan, 2 horses and 4 dogs in Simi Valley CA.

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