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Philadelphia Museum Connection: Gov. Rendell Reveals Perelman’s Role in the Philly Barnes

Celebrants at last week’s Barnes-raising ceremony included: Bernard Watson, chairman of the Barnes Foundation’s board, second from left; Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, fifth from left; Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, sixth from left; Barnes president and CEO Derek Gillman, third from right

Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell dropped two surprises into his comments at last week’s ceremony celebrating the Barnes Foundation’s assumption of control over the site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia where it hopes to finish construction of a new facility by the end of 2011.

As reported by Inga Saffron, architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Governor announced an increase in the state’s contribution to the project to $30 million from $25 million.
The Barnes still states that the construction cost will come in at about $100 million, which I previously termed a “wishful-thinking budget.”

But more surprisingly, Rendell revealed:

I think it’s been 14 or 15 years since Ray Perelman first came to me with this idea to move the Barnes.

That would strongly suggest that the initial impetus for the state’s involvement came not from the Barnes itself, but from the long-time member (now chairman emeritus) of the Philadelphia Museum’s board of trustees, who later donated the lion’s share of money for that museum’s eponymous new annex. This connection will surely provide fodder for those who argue that, despite its public hands-off posture towards the controversial plan to move the Barnes from its long-time home in Merion, the Philadelphia Museum may, in fact, have been a behind-the-scenes player from the start, promoting, if not spearheading, the move.

Christopher Knight, art critic of the LA Times, observed Friday (in that newspaper’s Culture Monster blog) that Perelman’s feelings about the project have long been known. What wasn’t previously revealed so explicitly was his direct and early role in lobbying the Governor on behalf of the move.

According to the press release issued by the Barnes in conjunction with
last week’s ceremony, “remediation and site preparation” are now in
progress, with demolition scheduled for this winter. “Design
refinement” is scheduled for next spring and summer, with construction occurring between fall 2009 and
winter 2011. After that, interior work and installation are scheduled. (The
press release is not on the Barnes’ website, at this writing.)

Meanwhile, the Barnes has festooned its planned new location—the former site of a juvenile detention center (which recently moved to a new temporary location)—with a 400-foot-long series of 10-foot-high banners, reproducing some of its to-be-relocated masterpieces. Not shown in the above publicity photo is the band of protesters from Friends of the Barnes, who shouted their disapproval during the dignitaries’ speeches.

Still undisclosed are details about the architectural plans being drawn up by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, who were named more than a year ago. According to Barnes spokesperson Andrew Stewart:

The design is still not finalized and will
not be shown to the public until it is….There have been a lot of renderings in the process of the design, but
those will not be made public—at least there are no plans to do that
anytime soon.

Poor Inga, the architecture critic, still doesn’t have very much to go on.

an ArtsJournal blog