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 A 1991 plan for deaccessing works was withdrawn after fierce criticism from both Barnes trustees and the general public.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.