Posts Tagged With: Barnes Foundation

Philadelphia Area Conservation Association

A small glimpse into the paintings conservation lab, including part of the wall covered in burlap to mimick the gallery.

After almost a year and a half of fabulous events [that I sadly missed], I finally made it to a PACA meeting at the Barnes Foundation last week. It was great to see so many Philadelphia-area conservators that I already knew, and meet others that I didn’t know, all while enjoying some delicious snacks and drinks.

Having lived near the new site of the Barnes for almost three years, I feel like I’ve been very connected to the building and the collection’s move from Lower Merion, checking in on their progress every time I walked to Whole Foods or drove to school. Now I can finally say that I was able to tour the new paintings conservation lab! Even better than the tour was the panel of conservators (Barbara Buckley and Margaret Little), director and chief curator (Judith Dolkart), and registrar (Andrea Cakars), who discussed the logistics behind the collection’s move. It helps to have an involved board of trustees and a strong network of colleagues in other institutions. It was amazing to hear just how many people were involved in the work, and how smoothly the whole process happened despite all of the controversy surrounding the move!

In the end, everyone wanted the collection to be in a safe and accessible new home; not only is that true, but the space is also beautiful and Green, achieving the highest rating in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system by the U.S. Green Building Council.  I still have to go back sometime to view the collection in the new building, but until then, I will happily enjoy the space from the outside.

Thanks, PACA, for organizing the event!

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You may have read the New York Times article on Robert Wittman and his book entitled Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures. The book was released at the end of May and skyrocketed to number one on the best-selling charts. Though I have yet to read the book, I did have the opportunity to hear Mr Wittman discuss a little about its contents–his experience recovering stolen art for the FBI–during an evening talk at the Barnes Foundation.

Mr Wittman always had an interest in art, once a student of the Barnes, so it was only logical that he would gravitate in the direction of art theft while working for the FBI. His training had given him an eye for master paintings and he could easily spot a valuable painting out of a group of fakes. This talent is so impressive to me because, even after 8 years of studying art, and with the general ability to name an artist to an object, I honestly don’t think I could decide on the spot whether or not a painting is authentic…especially when there are foreign mobsters breathing down my neck.

According to Robert Wittman, 90% of art thefts are ‘inside’ jobs, accomplished by staff members, researchers, connoisseurs, etc. of the museum or private collection! I can’t even imagine the people I work with taking something from the museum because that, in turn, is like taking from the public. But even if someone successfully steals a work of art, what do they do with it? Mr Wittman talked on this topic for a while, mentioning that without a clear provenance, museums and collectors will not (should not) purchase a valuable piece of art. However, there are still black market dealers who buy up stolen goods at a fraction of their value…assuming the thief(s) are not caught. But with talented FBI agents on the prowl, the only reward criminals can expect is 5-10 years.

The FBI’s Art Crime Team was actually started by Mr Wittman, in 2004, and increased the number of art theft investigators from 3 to 13. The job requires a lot from these men and women: working a minimum of 5 years for the FBI, studying art, traveling around the world, dealing with dangerous criminals, and sometimes even getting arrested in other countries! It does sound exciting, though, especially the part about seeing and handling priceless works of art. Oh wait, I get to do that too. 😉 Robert Wittman’s story probably makes for a better book, though, and will definitely be a thriller when it comes out on film!

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Changes at the Barnes Foundation

I scheduled a visit with Margaret Little, senior project manager at the Barnes Foundation, to see how the conservation department works on a day-to-day basis…but I was also interested to see how they are managing the monstrous task of moving the entire collection to downtown Philadelphia.

Leila, a graduate intern from the Sorbonne, and I drove out to Merion on Tuesday, forgetting that the museum is only open to the public Wed-Sun. We didn’t get much time to peruse the galleries, but Margaret was kind to walk us through and talk a little about how things will be changing. Fortunately I already took a trip to the Barnes in October, so I was able to see the entire place in tact before the transformation. Leila wasn’t so lucky, but at least she did get to see the closed off spaces and will be able to go back for a “real” visit before returning to Paris.

The fact that I live a few blocks from the Parkway means that I see the progress of the new Barnes site almost every day. It’s definitely coming along. All of the growth at the new site is also reflected in the old building, in the pace at which art is coming down. Only one half of the top floor is closed at the moment, but the rest of the second floor will be closing in early 2011, so make sure you get there fast! The artwork is actually still on the walls in the closed off section, it’s just behind a safety barrier as conservators work to treat frames, silver and any other objects in need of help. The extra space definitely comes in handy, and who can complain about working below a Modigliani all day!

Barnes created for himself a very thorough collection of amazing art. I just hope to learn more his motivation for collecting and what was going through his head as he set up the pieces for display. The summer program at the Barnes is a good place to start my research. And for those of you who would like to learn more about the controversial relocation of the museum, rent a copy of The Art of the Steal; it’s not exactly pro-move, but even the conservators are recommending it for it’s informational content!

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