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“Art of the Steal’s” Philly Premiere: Lita Solis-Cohen, Guest Blogger

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Jay Raymond, a former teacher and student at the Barnes Foundation, who is featured in “The Art of the Steal,” wields the megaphone at the movie’s Philadelphia premiere.

I didn’t make it to the Philadelphia premiere of the anti-move movie about the Barnes Foundation, “The Art of the Steal” (which I’ve reviewed here and here). But I did the next-best thing: I got Lita Solis-Cohen, senior editor of Maine Antique Digest (who had studied at the Barnes in the 1960s), to guest-blog the event.

Here is her report:

By Lita Solis-Cohen

A snow storm was no obstacle for the Friends of the Barnes, who held a rally last Friday before the sold-out premiere of “The Art of the Steal” at Landmark’s Ritz Five theater in the historical district of Philadelphia. The Barnes Friends remain determined to stop the move.

Holding signs reading, “Moving Is Not What The Doctor Ordered,” “It Is Never Too Late To Do The Right Thing,” “Stop $$$$ For Barnes Pork Barrel Project,” etc., they listened as Evelyn Yaari of the Friends of the Barnes welcomed the crowd of more than 50 and introduced three speakers.

Dr. [Albert] Barnes knew who the enemies of democracy were: The principal one is ignorance,” declared Jay Raymond, a former Barnes teacher and a litigant against the move, who appears in the movie. “Unfortunately, Barnes underestimated the power of the forces that have come to undo his legacy.”

Raymond questions whether the Barnes will be financially viable on the Parkway. “Thirty million dollars of public money has already been committed,” he told the crowd. “One way to stop the move is to stop the money….Watch the movie, spread the word. Barnes on the Parkway is not the solution.”

Congressman Jim Gerlach expressed support for the Friends of the Barnes, reminding the crowd that Lower Merion Township had loosened restrictions on the number of people admitted to the galleries and allowed longer visiting hours, and that the County had proposed floating a $50-million bond issue to support the Barnes (an offer that the foundation refused).

“It belongs where it is,” said Gerlach, “Barnes had a vision that he expressed so clearly. It is part of the region’s history and should be designated an historic landmark. I hope the movie will invigorate the fight.”

Robert Zaller, professor of history and politics at Drexel University and a member of the Barnes Friends steering committee, told the assembled crowd that Friends of the Barnes had nothing to do with the making of the film and had no editorial say (although several members are in it).

“We had no idea what was in it until we saw it ourselves and we are delighted that it is bringing the truth to Philadelphia,” Zaller stated. He spoke of the “undeniable profligacy” of spending $200 million to move the Barnes four and a half miles, when a 15-minute bus ride from the art museum would bring visitors to its door.

“Philadelphia, you are great enough not to have to build a cultural capital by stealing your neighbor’s art” he declared.

CULTUREGRRL ADDS:

Speaking of “stealing your neighbor’s art,” it’s instructive to contrast Gov. Edward Rendell‘s attitude towards moving Merion’s cultural patrimony with his fierce protectiveness towards Philadelphia’s art. CultureGrrl readers may remember his fury over the joint $68-million bid by the National Gallery, Washington, and Alice Walton‘s Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AR, for Philadelphia’s great Eakins painting, “The Gross Clinic,” then being offered for sale by Thomas Jefferson University.

In January 2007, at an enormous gathering of art lovers in the grand lobby of the Philadelphia Museum of Art celebrating successful efforts to keep the Eakins in Philly, Gov. Rendell said this:

I was so irate that they would take this painting out of town that I called the head of the National Gallery and said, “How can the National Gallery be party to the hijacking of something that is so uniquely Philadelphian?”

The Friends of the Barnes have now posted on their website “The Art of the Steal’s” release schedule for theaters around the country. The film is also available for home viewing through IFC On Demand.

an ArtsJournal blog