Tired of Fighting: A new director is trying to turn around the embattled Barnes Foundation

MERION, PA-When Kimberly Camp was appointed director of the Barnes Foundation late last fall, the event capped one of the most volatile years in the institution’s 77-year history. First, Camp’s controversial predecessor, Richard H. Glanton, lost his post in a boardroom battle related to litigation the Philadelphia-area foundation was mired in. Then, Lincoln University, a historically black college that controls four out of five of the seats on the foundation’s board, ran into troubles of its own. After a Pennsylvania state audit revealed spending irregularities at the university, Lincoln president and Barnes trustee Niara Sudarkasa-who had been a principle force behind Glanton’s departure-handed in her own resignation. Now Camp is attempting to turn the embattled institution around.

The first task of the 42-year-old Camp, who was formerly director of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, has been to address the Barnes’s finances. The foundation, which houses one of the world’s finest and most valuable collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, is now facing charges from Glanton, who remains a trustee, that the interim administrator, Earle L. Bradford, Jr., spent down the endowment from $11 million to $7 million over the course of last year. While Camp disputes these claims, she does acknowledge the foundation’s fiscal problems. “The operations of the foundation have eaten away at the funds,” she says. “The endowment simply did not grow as it should have.”

Established in 1922 by Albert Barnes, a pharmaceuticals magnate, the foundation has more than 800 paintings now estimated to be worth as much as $2 billion. Among its works are 180 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, and 60 Matisses, as well as numerous Old Masters paintings. Yet the institution has long struggled to generate income under the strict conditions placed on it by its founder. Originally accessible by appointment only, beginning in 1946 the foundation began opening one day a week. In 1961, the state successfully sued to increase access to 2.5 days a week but the number of visitors remained strictly limited to 500 a week. Barnes also stipulated that works were to remain hung in the exact floor-to-ceiling arrangement he had chosen and were never to be deaccessioned or put on loan.

Under Glanton, the foundation attempted to loosen some of the rules of its charter but ran into continual controversy-often in court. A 1991 plan for deaccessing works was withdrawn after fierce criticism from both Barnes trustees and the general public. Then, in 1992, a court allowed the Barnes to finance an ambitious renovation by mounting an exhibition of highlights from its collection, which traveled to major museums worldwide from 1993 to 1995. Considered a success at the time, the show raised over $17 million. But when the renovated building drew more visitor traffic, Merion officials began issuing citations for zoning violations. The foundation countered by suing the township commissioners and individual neighbors, claiming their actions against the largely African American-run Barnes were racially motivated. The commissioners sued back, saying they had been defamed.

The long legal standoff, along with several other proceedings involving the foundation in the mid-1990s, ate up some $2 million of the institution’s endowment, according to press reports. Now, the foundation has initiated an audit of its financial records from 1992 to 1997. (The audit is being conducted by Deloitte & Touche; Debo Adegbile, a lawyer with Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison in New York, who represents the Barnes, confirmed that the audit was ongoing, but declined comment on its status.)

There are signs that some of the wrangling is coming to an end. Settlement has been reached with the township, and the zoning board has approved an increase in the foundation’s opening hours to three days a week. It has also expanded the number of visitors it can admit, to 1,200 a week. Moreover, the court overseeing the Barnes’s charter has ruled that the foundation may hold fund-raising events on its premises, something explicitly barred by Barnes. Camp sees the changes as steps toward financial stability and the beginning of a less-fraught phase in the institution’s history. “I think folks get tired of fighting each other,” she says.

Particular Beauty

jul. 15, 2010 – aug. 15, 2010         Particular Beauty

Ilya Genin
Alice Grebanier
Simon Laufer
James Pryor
Maia Reim
Linda Sheehan

PARTICULAR BEAUTY

Some things are beautiful not because they conform to an ideal measure of perfection but precisely because they so freely depart from any such standard. These things distinguish themselves by the grace, and lack of self-awareness, with which they assert their own identity. Without setting out to do so, they flaunt our expectations and mesmerize us with their particular beauty.

Ilya Genin nominally photographs human expression. Sometimes it is a prolonged stare, others it is a fleeting smile. Closer examination suggests that the countenances he captures are a surrogate for a more profound subject: human engagement. Beauty, in Genin’s imagery, lies not so much in any particular face, but in the invisible forces that connect all of the multiple faces in his compositions.

Alice Grebanier finds aesthetic refuge in a cold subject. We know ice to be a hard, inhospitable solid, but her eye moves beyond the obvious to show us that material’s more malleable qualities. In her photographs we see that ice flows. We see this in sheet-like folds draped upon an underlying contour, and in rounded forms slowly launching themselves into space. In photographing ice, Grebanier does not photograph coldness … she photographs grace.

Simon Laufer finds beauty at moments when other photographers might rightly lament that they have been deprived of their vision. Laufer was not frustrated in trying to look through a rain-drenched windshield; he found beauty by looking at it. He noticed that water bends light. Laufer played with his camera’s focus to discover that the effects differ depending on whether he focused near or far. He often released his shutter at moments revealing least about the exterior space. He made interior photographs, and through these he opened a portal to an inner world. Laufer’s imagery is a Zen garden, delivering to us an invitation for inner contemplation.

James Pryor expertly traipses along a precarious path. He makes arresting photographs of animals – one might even call them portraits – that boldly engage the viewer in seemingly modest ways. We are hooked before we realize it. The contentment his photographs promise is rationally implausible, yet they do provide comfort. He provokes curiosity, strengthening interest in a vignette entirely of his making. And yet, because the sense of identity within his subjects remains intact, his subjects are not exploited and we do not feel cheated. We gladly plumb the depths created by this photographer’s quirky, manufactured authenticity.

Maia Reim haunts abandoned rooms, places where the lives of unnamed residents played out through domestic experience. The inhabitants have long since gone. Left behind are remnants of their choices. Reim mines these not so much to resurrect who those people were, nor why they chose this or that, nor the nature of their lives back then, but rather because she finds beauty in the state of their things now. Color matters as much as composition. Her imagery is thickened with an implied patina of experience. While we see these things and spaces in the present tense, they also carry a ghostly, muted suggestion of their owners’ final gestures.

Linda Sheehan is blessed with a vision that sees beyond function and context. The objects she photographs have little relationship to the subject of her imagery. Literal content is merely a vehicle for subjective expression. Yet her photographs are not pure abstraction. They retain enough information so that we recognize in them something familiar. Like those moments when we search for a word that is on the tip of our tongue but cannot quite find it, we intuitively know that we know the point from which Sheehan has leapt. Yet we have difficulty naming it. In relinquishing our need to capture what cannot be contained, we join Sheehan and unmoor our own appreciation of beauty.

Many paths lead to beauty. No one path is better than any other, although some are well worn and others remain untread. In forging their own way, these six photographers remind us that beauty is not a static destination. Beauty can take many forms. The most exotic of these may also be the most familiar. If we search among these, we may find yet more examples of particular beauty.

Ricardo Barros, Curator

On the Wave of My Memory

oct. 1, 2010 – oct. 31, 2010         On the Wave of My Memory

Valera Iskhakov

Dalet Gallery dedicates this exhibition to the 60th bithday of the artist.

Refractive Brain Therapy

DaletJan2011

jan. 15, 2011 – feb. 26, 2011         Refractive Brain Therapy

LiQin Tan

“Refractive Brain Therapy” is a conceptual animation-installation project that consists of a few large digital metal prints along with 3D animation and LCD monitors through large water-filled vats.

In this exhibit, LiQin Tan shows a decidedly unique understanding of refractivity. The project touches on the natural means, more important, a social phenomenon as well. In Chinese ideology, the phrase “refractivity” holds the dual meaning of 1) initiating an illusion; 2) leading towards social reality, with applications to psychological activities, including brain washing.

The Importance of Small Things

mar. 4, 2011 – mar. 26, 2011         The Importance of Small Things

Brigitte Rutenberg

Brigitte Rutenberg does very detailed ink drawings by the thousands on stamp-sized pieces of vellum paper and Mylar with which she assembles her PAPER QUILTS while her 3-D GLASS BOOKS with ink drawings consist of hinged glass panels reminiscent of the under-glass painting done in the 1800s. With these works she draws attention to “the importance of small things” for which women’s work is traditionally known.

Primeval Geographies

apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         Primeval Geographies

Irena Kononova

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Irena Kononva as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. These pictorial excavations intend to peel layers of superimposed earth histories as well as layers of our mind and soul. The geological layers of soil that are often depicted in the paintings correspond to multiple layers of paint. Fluid element is omnipresent, as it would be in aquatic primordial nature, but it also hints at the fluidity of our imagination and thinking process. The vast landscapes are void of figures although human presence is manifested by subtle signs. The paintings are filled with biomorphic shapes that blur the boundaries between organic flesh and crystalline mass, merging life with dead matter, making viewers guess if what is depicted is a mountain or an animal. It is fitting that sand – a product of long interaction between stones and water – is one of the physical components of these works. These paintings map out utopian lands, but more than anything else they are maps of our unconscious.

Sea of SAMSARA

apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         Sea of SAMSARA

Sky Kim

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Sky Kim as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. “SAMSARA” is a Sanskrit word meaning the eternal cycle of life, or literally the “continuous flow” that captures the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. Sky Kim’s 30 foot-long scroll series captures this continuous flow, the imprinted path of noble transmigration through microscopic scanning. This vitality and non-stop evolutionary movement are what is going on in the center of her work. The visual intensity is a result of meticulous hand drawn labor and the numerous patterns made with a certain logic and creative mind are intriguing to look at, but complicated to create. There is a constant tug of war embedded in the organic undulations in her work. The images are comforting, yet dizzying; fluid, yet stagnant; organic, yet abstract; delicate, yet obsessive. Symbols of water and blood represent what we once were in the womb, the beginning point of life, and of her personal memory of her stillborn twin sister. In her work, each circle, the most perfect form found in nature, and each line contain the energy which allows a being to consistently evolve into a complete form of nature.

The Secrets of the Wind

apr. 1, 2011 – apr. 30, 2011         The Secrets of the Wind

Juri Kim

Dalet Gallery presents this solo exhibit of Juri Kim as a part of a project called CONTEMPLATIVE REALMS. Juri Kim’s work is an attempt at visual communication. She is interested in the relationship between text and image and between perception and knowledge and personal experiences. She uses text that she has collected from every day life to create a visual lexicon. Ms. Kim employs the Braille Alphabet writing system to prove the idea that what you see is what you know. The act of filling her painting with dots that are units and cells charged with a special and personal meaning is a practice that is reflective of a Zen exercise. The work is a constant act of finding and losing, remembering and forgetting, asserting and denying, inventing and destroying, daily evoking life and death. She wants to open a visual window for viewers to explore new possibilities.

The Orchestra of the Damned

may. 6, 2011 – jun. 25, 2011         The Orchestra of the Damned

The variety of the exhibited works reflects the 60-year period spanning the artist’s early paintings (dated 1951) to a recently created series of collages and mixed media on wood and paper.

In his paintings in oil paint and mixed media, Hart visually forges a concretized world of highly personal mythologies.

The central platform of the exhibition is Hart’s recent series of oil paintings, “The Orchestra of the Damned”, in which he creates a compelling metaphor on an anti-war theme, one engaging a contrapuntal collision between the beauty of music and the brutality of war. The figurative musicians in the paintings are all veterans of foreign wars. Much of his work represents complex reformulations through collage; these are deeply personal and symbolically relevant images on wood and paper. The artist has also created three-dimensional works on wood using collage and mixed media on various objects. Besides these paintings in oil and mixed media, Hart engages in book art; here he utilizes a style resonant of Gothic imagery and the visual power of medieval illustrated manuscripts.

Gatekeepers of the Cycle

may. 6, 2011 – may. 28, 2011         Gatekeepers of the Cycle

The inter-penetrating layers of symbolism, misticism, and narrative in my work constitute a timeless world of ancient rituals and divinatory rites.

In synthesizing techniques of the old masters, ancient mystical teaching, and contemporary science, my work focuses on the uniqueness and universality of inner landscapes and transcendent experience.

– Chris Sedgwick