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What’s The Connection Between The Barnes And Hitler?

I’ve always opposed the move of the Barnes Foundation into Philadelphia, and mostly — but not unwaveringly — agreed with the Friends of the Barnes Foundation. But the Friends have goofed, I think, in a very distasteful way. It’s time to call them on it.

Last week, they sent me a link to a “New Barnes video” on YouTube. It’s not a snippet — it’s nearly four minutes long and someone, or some bodies, spent time on this. It uses an old film of a raging Hitler — apparently from a German film called “The Downfall” and which I gather has been used many times “in jest” — trying to pull off a great art heist. When he loses his own officers, Hitler decides to call the Pew Trust, which helped orchestrate the Barnes move.

Given all the good reviews the new Barnes has been getting (it opened with a trumpet fanfare), it’s clear the Friends are feeling low, but standing pat. On Friday night, during the opening gala, and on Saturday night, they had planned to wear black and stand in protest at the new Barnes to “witnesses to the destruction of the Barnes Foundation.” Presumably they did, though I’ve seen no mention of that in the press –another slight by hometown newspapers, which back the move.

And, the Friends have been fined by the court, probably unfairly, and are still protesting and fighting that.

But the Hitler video isn’t funny and is way out of proportion.

Last week, I suggested to one of the Friends, “Maybe it’s time to call it a day?” Their efforts, it seems to me, have nowhere to go. The Barnes has moved, and it’s not going back to Merion.

“Calling it a day depends mostly on an assessment of whether or not there is any justice to be had and the risks of putting the system to the test,” she wrote back.

That is true. Someone, in some court, may agree that they should not have to pay penalties for using the courts. I just wish they had remained on the high road. What’s the connection between the Barnes and Hitler? None, absolutely none.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Friends of the Barnes Foundation



  1. Peter Dobrin says

    “Presumably they did, though I’ve seen no mention of that in the press –another slight by hometown newspapers, which back the move.”

    From Saturday’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

    About a dozen members of the Friends of the Barnes, which fought the move for years, set up a protest across the street from the entrance to the gala on 20th street. “We want to bear witness to what is happening here tonight,” said the group’s Evelyn Yaari. “Dr. Barnes’ collection has been taken from the place where it was intended to be.”

  2. Christian Josi says

    You are a moron. Look up satire in the dictionary then go enjoy the stolen art. And the Friends are no more responsible for this than they are the graffiti on those dumb ass ads. The PEOPLE are disgusted, and will never ‘get over it’

    • The Friends sent the link to me; someone there approved of it enough to call it to my attention (and presumably that of others). And I never said “get over it.” I asked if it was time to call it a day (quite a different thing, especially as a question) and, if not, I recommended staying on the high road. None of this, in my opinion, merits your uncivil language.

  3. I get your point, but think you´re being too strict. We haven’t left the “high road.” We didn’t solicit the video or even know it was coming; but once it was delivered to us, it would have been wrong to withhold it, IMHO. Unapologetically, we consider the video another unexpected, remarkable gift. In poor taste or not, the story it tells is spot on. The choice of the Hitler material is perhaps unfortunate, although the associations with unbridled power and arrogance — while inaccurate in the strictest sense — strike a chord. People are enraged by what has happened to the world-renowned Barnes at the hands of a tiny group of plutocrats, Rebecca Rimel of Pew, the lawyers they have funded, and the politicians that serve their clients’ interests and their own.

    It is worth noting that while the Friends are supposed to maintain the “high road,” Barnes Trustees and Executive Director Derek Gillman are performing full-blown smoke and mirrors extravaganzas, flat out lying to the press left and right, unchallenged.

  4. The Friends of the Barnes will not pack it in quite yet. People have been telling them to do that for several years. The Merion site is a big question mark and who says the art work will never return. Stranger things have happened. The business plan is severely flawed and the new Barnes could go the way of the Folk Art Museum in New York designed by the same architects. By the way, the reviews have been anything but unanimously favorable for the new building. check out this one.

  5. I get your point… Hitler is a sensitive thing to evoke in any situation. Hitler opens up doors that most or many don’t want opened… so I will try to explain the connection and why it is important that Friends of the Barnes keep going. First… Hitler counted on Europe not doing anything as they built thier military against what was a pretty strict compact Germany signed after WWI… Kind of like the way the Pew and the other participants in the move have done in their efforts to break the will. Then Hitler counted on Europe to roll over as they blitzed, taking everything in their path. Kind of like how instead of solving what was not broken in Merion or what might have been broken in Merion and moving the art for what the Barnes board called “access” or “the greater good”. (You know the final solution?) Basically in the end… it was a small island country that stood alone and said no to Hitler… (England) that started the fight against his plan to take over the world… for what he felt was a better solution. Frankly it is not that far fetched… it is more simular than different, except that if you are pro the move… you will see that the ends justify the means… just as the average german did in the 1930s and 40s… Until they lost… and there are those few who still believe that Hitler was right. Sad to say. So as the rich and powerful do their bidding in the name of their version of what’s right… The Friends of the Barnes should fight on… if nothing else to slow down things for social discourse… to check to make sure that everyone is being served… not just what Mr. Lenfest, Annenburg, Neubauer, etc… want to leave as their legacy…

  6. ed norton says

    I like the comparison to Hitler. Sure these people like Rendell and pew ect… haven’t commited the atrocities of the Nazis , nor have they used violence in any way; but they did clearly manipulate the courts and the public in their quest of a specific goal . Manipulation and Control are what Hitler was all about. Ed Rendell is a brilliant speaker as was Hitler. He was able to convince many powerful and intelligent people to climb on board for a cause that was clearly wrong. Charles Manson and Hitler are people who had that kind power over their subordinates and or colleagues. Intelligent people should not be afraid to make comparisons like this when arguing their case. It’s a debate technique that many of us learned in grammer school. Noone is saying the new Barnes people are Nazis. The comparison of their actions versus some of those by the Nazis is just an astute observation.

    • You mentioned a technique learned in grammar school. Evoking offence to a reference like Hitler is also a technique for control and dominance. No one likes to look insensitive, so by evoking offence that person effectivly shuts down dialog. With that said it goes both ways…

      No matter which side you fall on this matter it is important to keep talking about it. To find possibility where it seems like there is none. When one side is right… the other side has to be wrong… and when you are made wrong… all possibility goes out the window. My fear is that eventually this conversation will go away because right now it seems… and I say IT SEEMS… like it is about being right versus what is possible. There is too much at stake on both sides to let this die.

      I don’t have to like Rendell or his fellow participants… but if we don’t open up communication, it will always boil down to power and position… and right now they seem to have it all… or close to it!

      unless…. they are unwilling… then more drastic means may have to happen…

  7. Brian Kappra says

    There is no reason at all to bring Hitler into the conversation, Satire or not. The desperate attempts of the “friends” to continue to make their argument turns more ugly with each post on their website. No one will deny you your opinions on the new facility or the move. But there comes a time when you need to move on. Many of us who loved the Barnes in Merion have been to the Barnes on the Parkway and love it. We love the new building, the galleries and THE ART and are thrilled to have easy access to view the collection. More people will view the collection with each passing day and while their experience will not be the same as in Merion, it will be just as awe-inspiring and moving. I watched their faces as they exited the building on Sunday morning. It is not to be denied. It is ok to mourn the loss of what was, but there is no denying that what is, is quite special.

    • Brian, will you be there to pay for the 18 dollars admission for those people who can’t afford access? How about the 40 to get a tour? If you are on a limited budget, 18$ seems like a mortgage payment…. Where is the access in that? So tell me, access for whom? And access to what? It sure doesn’t seem like access for the poor or access to the art? So what is it?

  8. I find nothing wrong with this Hitler gets right to the point.

  9. Brian Kappra says

    Robert are you serious? You don’t see the insanity of using the name of a murderer of milliions and millions of innocent people to make arguments about where some paintings will hang???????????? You dare to equate the two issues? My goodness some of you folks have just gone off the deep end on this issue.

  10. John Glass says

    As a satire, not as realistic mode of fiction or propaganda piece, it was right on the mark: a brilliant and hilarious send-up of The Barnes Foundation and their associates. My wife liked it too; we viewed it about five times and each time found something new and funny to howl over. Sometimes oppressive forces are best undermined by humor and even Der Fuhrer and his crew can be exploited to this end. Certainly Mel Brooks recognized this in “The Producers” (both movie and musical) as did Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.”

  11. Kind of off-topic, but who’s the artist responsible for the portrait of Barnes illustrating this post? Looks like a De Chirico–or do I need new glasses?

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