This week, I took in the latest installment of the Barnes and Bailey Circus. The Barnes Foundation is the seemingly serene institution whose recent history and planned move have created as much turbulence and division as its founder did during his lifetime.
Albert Barnes' legacy may well turn out to be not only those rosy-cheeked Renoirs, but also an enduring gift for conflict, beginning with an archaic trust and inadequate administrators unable to adjust to financial pressures of the modern world.
It may seem absurd to spend $200 million to transplant, albeit sensitively, the collection a few miles from Merion, but never underestimate the wishes of rich and willful individuals.
Now the very sort of powerful establishment types whom Barnes railed against in his lifetime have become stewards of his legacy, an irony indeed. His stalwarts are a tenacious, single-minded troupe equipped with placards, buttons, and scowls who have exhausted court challenges and patience.
Books have been written, conspiracies hatched, a movie produced, but the inevitable is finally happening after what seems like an eternity of contention. The Barnes is moving across from the very Philadelphia Museum of Art that Barnes abhorred - the "House of Prostitution of Art and Education on the Parkway," he adjured - and we might as well get used to it.
That's what happens with these long-standing battles: The fighting goes on for so long it wears down almost everything in change's path.
A day after the Barnes presentation, ground broke on SugarHouse Casino, another tortured drama that might finally see the light of day, though sunlight has little to do with the sepulchral world of casinos. SugarHouse's protesters hired a plane pulling a banner that said "Crime, Poverty, Addiction . . . Jackpot." Forty police officers guarded the private groundbreaking of a gambling emporium designed to swell state and city coffers.
"We'll have some fun. We'll create some jobs and we'll help beautify part of Delaware Avenue," said Chicago developer Neil Bluhm.
Fun? This would be the same Bluhm who failed to make the initial $7.5 million payment on the new Pittsburgh Penguins arena this week. The commonwealth gaming commission filed a complaint demanding the money.
Bluhm's Rivers Casino is doing poorly, in the bottom tier of Pennsylvania's nine operating casinos. It's not a good time for much, and a worse time for gambling.
The credit rating of the Pittsburgh casino's holding company has been downgraded for "weak operating performance," and that's after the previous owner filed for bankruptcy. Does this inspire confidence? No, it does not.
Investors behind the even more troubled Foxwoods casino may be grateful for extended warfare, with all its challenges and delays. Developers usually love hawking their projects. Not so here. Local investors led by Lewis Katz, Ron Rubin, and Ed Snider seem wary of parading the association, relying on a hired spokeswoman. It's as if the project has the swine flu and they might be infected. They're willing to reap any revenue, marked for family charitable trusts - see, all for the greater good - just don't ask them to talk about something as unsightly as slots and now table games.
State Rep. Michael O'Brien didn't hesitate to help himself to some sprinkling of potential sugar. This week in Harrisburg, he earmarked 1 percent of earnings for a charitable neighborhood fund controlled by political cronies, possibly $1.2 million annually for a Sons of Citizens' Alliance. Perhaps he hasn't learned anything from a certain former state senator.
You get so used to extended battles that it's shocking when ground gets broken or designs are produced. Years from now, will anyone remember the fights over the foundation or casinos? Let the Barnes saga be a lesson: Only fools believe they can ultimately control their legacies given the exigencies of time.