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Albert Barnes amassed an incredible collection of post-Impressionist art. He founded a trust, trained his own trustees, willed that his arrangements of the works be preserved as a school …
The only sane place to see art in America
on the Barnes Collection
Then other forces reinterpreted the will …
What does the right to bear arms mean a few supreme courts later? It means you can’t bear arms! Well, Barnes’ many enemies took over his foundation, stole Barnes’ will, revised it, reversed it.
a Barnes Matisse
Details will follow, but first, right away, I want to report what happened to the richest literary will in history:
George Bernard Shaw struggled as an artist but flourished as a critic. Then his plays got published, some got performed, some became hits. Then he died. Then My Fair Lady vaulted the Shaw literary estate way over the previous all-time earner, W. Somerset Maugham’s. Pygmalion had done great; My Fair Lady did even greater.
Shaw regarded himself as self-educated: he read, and read, in the public reading room of the British Museum. Shaw remembered that “teacher” in his will: The British Museum was named as beneficiary to a generous percentage of the Shaw estate. But Shaw’s will stipulated that the bulk of his his estate fund the reform of English spelling!
Hooray! Yay, GBS. He got his priorities absolutely right in my view: The British Museum deserved some thanks: but to shake some of the infinite inefficiencies out of English spelling, now there’s a task: like wishing Christians would become Christian!
So what happened? Has our spelling reformed? No: the British Museum’s lawyers argued in court that the old genius was insane: what he really meant was for the British Museum to get all of the money! and spelling reform to get none!
Imagine the Brinks thieves agreeing to pay back the money they stole, but then being allowed to do the counting themselves: One for me, and one for you, and none for Brinks, and two for me …
The original draft gets pushed along below while I revise.
A number of my friends in the 1950s knew the Barnes Collection in Pennsylvania: hundreds of Cezannes and Renoirs, Picassos and Matisses on the walls like stamps in a catalogue: or, that’s what I’d heard.
Now, thanks to the art-doc The Art of the Steal (2009), I see how Barnes had the paintings displayed: and very nice it is: very very nice: lots of room: and grouped by esthetic family; not alphabetically, not chronologically: arranged by Barnes (and staff’s) intelligence! and knowledge. both of which were considerable. Anyway, they were Barnes’ paintings. He bought them, he owned them, supposedly he could do what he wanted with them. Stand by and I’ll tell how Barnes’ will was thwarted: and will add other examples, both famous and unacknowledged. Namely, I’ll tell how British law and the British Museum ganged up on George Bernard Shaw’s will and stole the bulk of his estate, much swollen by the success of My Fair Lady. Then I’ll point out how the United States (and the world) perverted while stealing the internet from me, from Ivan Illich, from Jesus, from God.
Supposedly Barnes could do what he wanted with his paintings. Or could he? If I buy the Mona Lisa — and say I’m rich enough to bail out France and the United Nations, and also buy off the US (and Japan, China …), do I have the right to paint a mustache on it?
burn it? deface it? throw it in the ocean? wipe my ass with it? Isn’t a painting sort of, at least in part, like a person? Don’t paintings, especially great paintings, share some “rights” with humans?
(I first saw a mustache painted onto the Mona Lisa by Dali! 1950s, on a reproduction of course.)
Civilization is far from any final definition of property or art or ownership: and let me rush to point out that when Barnes bought his Cezannes and Renoirs, Picassos and Matisses, those paintings were not sacred! Barnes picked them up for a dollar and a song. The art establishment insulted them! and insulted Barnes!
Indeed, the Barnes collection was (quite consciously) a return-insult to the Philadelphia art establishment!
Point to be developed: If people want something they’ll figure out a way to claim ownership, they’ll concoct ways to prevent sense from getting a word in edgewise. If enough sinners want to claim heaven as theirs, God won’t be able to get a word in edgewise: until Judgment: and then words won’t matter.
In 1957 my Buddy invited me to his house in New Rochelle. He drives up to a mansion in a neighborhood with no sidewalks, a tall hedge, a big circular drive way, a butler opening the door for us, a maid asking us what we want to eat, no menu, just order anything, as my jaw dropped on seeing the paintings in the living room: Rouault, Vlaminck … and in the dining room … Matisse, Max Weber …
Any one of those paitnings would have auctioned for $60,000 then … and $35,000,000 to $60,000,000 today. Years later when I asked my friend if he had any objection to my adding his father to my art mailing list, he said, “Don’t waste a stamp, your stuff is much too expensive for my father.” I said, “My graphics are middle-three figures!” Anton said, “Yeah, graphics for $600. My father would never pay more than $200 for a painting!” “What changed him?” I wanted to know. “My father has never paid more than $200 for any painting.”
Yaii! he bought them when they were cheap! dirt cheap! So did Barnes, Barnes was rare but not the only one.
I’ve told that story before. I’m pleased to tell it again in this context. I further repeat briefly the story of Lenny and Joyce. Lenny was in advertising, made piles of money. Joyce was a cute buxom Village chick pretending to be an artist. Joyce bought a loft, Lenny loaned her $10,000 to fix it up. But then Lenny wrote a novel, did less advertising, began feeling a financial bone bruise or two, asked Joyce when she was going to start paying him back. The last I heard Joyce hadn’t repaid him one penny: and I personally funneled at least $10,000 to Joyce in 1978. Lenny’s begging for repayment; Joyce says, and I quote, “Oh, I don’t think Lenny ever really wanted me to pay him back.”
In parallel, citing our own mythology:
The story has it that God sent Jesus, offering us salvation. We stood there while Jesus preached, cured the blind, raised the dead: stirred some stories at least. So we arrested him, scourged him, crucified him … And now we say it was all for us. Cheyanne territories? No: it’s all ours! Barnes’ painting? No, it’s all ours! Shaw’s genius money? No, it belongs to governors, bureaucrats … enemies of intellect. And my weapon against the establishment? No: the thieves say God really meant it not for the people but for the censors, the generals, the hawks, the bombdroppers. Cybernetics isn’t for freeing speech; it’s for controlling speech.
I put this up before I’ve made it good. Better drafts coming.