Robert Redford is on the phone, and wants to know what's up with the Barnes.
"Hey, are they moving the Barnes out of that mansion?" he wonders. "Has that gone down smoothly, or has it been a rocky controversy?"
Redford, calling from his office in New York, is making himself available to talk about The Conspirator, his Lincoln assassination drama, starring Robin Wright and James McAvoy and opening Friday, April 15. (Read my interview with Redford on Sunday, April 17.) But the actor/filmmaker/environmentalist/mail order catalogue magnate had dropped into Philadelphia a few months back and taken a tour through the Barnes Foundation collection in Lower Merion. He'd also seen Don Argott's The Art of the Steal, the documentary about the fate of the Barnes and "the uproar" over efforts to relocate the storied trove to a new site on Philadelphia's museum row.
So, he was curious how things were shaking down.
"I've always been fascinated by that museum and the way the art has been hung there," he says, referring to the late Albert C. Barnes' unique approach of mixing Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterworks with African art, sculptural pieces and antique doorknobs and hinges. "It's amazing to see that kind of work from a different perspective."
Told that the new Barnes building is under construction on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, but that there are still legal challenges going through the courts, Redford sounded, if not resigned, then realistic.
"Probably they can't stop it, they won't be able to stop it," he says. "And then in years to come people will get used to it."