When Richard H. Glanton, new president of the Barnes Foundation, proposed in 1991 to sell a Renoir or two out of the collection and rustle up roughly $15 million, Barnes student Nicholas M. Tinari Jr. was appalled.
For decades, the foundation had hummed along as a self-sufficient educational undertaking ruled by Violette de Mazia, collaborator and traveling companion of progenitor Albert C. Barnes. In establishing the foundation, home to his great collection of early modernist artwork, he stipulated its purpose as educational. After his death in 1951, de Mazia was just as adamant about maintaining that focus.
Her death, in 1988, marked the end of all that.
Tinari believed deeply in the value of the foundation's educational program, but in his view Glanton and the trustees, dominated by Lincoln University nominees (as Barnes also had stipulated), represented an existential threat to the entire educational venture.
First, Barnes had expressly stipulated no art sales. So Tinari and other students entered the court battle to block any wheeling and dealing.
When the foundation withdrew that plan and proposed a worldwide tour of masterpieces instead, Tinari and other students went to court to block it. He became a walking encyclopedia of Barnesiana, arguing that Barnes did not want his artworks loaned or his gallery open like a museum, and would not have approved publication of books, catalogs, or reproductions. And Tinari's Barnes certainly would never have approved moving artwork from Merion to Philadelphia, contrary to the 2004 Montgomery County Orphans' Court ruling.
It's not that Tinari (who was barred from the Barnes in 1991 largely because of his opposition to Glanton proposals) feared change. Rather, he saw trustees and foundation officials as pushing relentlessly for commercialization, not contemplation; for tourism, not aesthetic understanding; for cash, not knowledge.
The fiscal woes of the foundation were overstated during court hearings examining the move to Philadelphia, Tinari also believes. And if there were serious financial problems, trustees had only themselves to blame.
"Lincoln University has betrayed every principle in which Albert Barnes believed and on which he founded the Barnes Foundation, whether in the field of education or democratic government," Tinari wrote to The Inquirer in 1995. "The Lincoln-nominated Barnes trustees, with the complicity of lame public officials and the moneyed elite, have turned an institution that once served as a unique voice in the field of art education into a sideshow. . . . Now, the galleries will become the backdrop for the power brokers' cocktail parties and the poster shop's cash registers."