Openings USA

Can sex save the Barnes?

Campaign to keep doctor’s art in Merion receives a tonic

Dr Barnes, chemist turned collector, and right, the original Argyrol

PHILADELPHIA. If the company that is recreating the “miracle” medicine that earned a fortune for Albert C. Barnes have their way, the cantankerous chemist’s art collection might stay in its suburban home in Merion rather than move to a new home being built nearby in central Philadelphia.

Argyrol Pharmaceuticals promises that an injection of cash from its future revenues—10% of profits—could be a cure for the Barnes Foundation’s financial difficulties, which first prompted the relocation.

Argyrol, an antiseptic, “can treat sexually transmitted diseases”, according to Christine McKinney, who owns the trademark to Argyrol’s essential molecule. In a startling claim, the company marketing the drug says that it attacks genital herpes and HIV, besides treating eye infections and acne, foreseeing a potential global market. Trademarked in 1902, Argyrol was widely used to treat infections, particularly gonorrhoea, in the last century.

In 1925 Barnes built the Paul Cret-designed Merion gallery to house his collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and artefacts. Barnes sold the Argyrol trademark to the pharmaceutical firm Zonite in 1929, using the profits to bankroll his acquisitions.

McKinney’s partner, Dusty Berke, said that the $150m building under construction to rehouse the Barnes collection could be “repurposed”. A spokesman at the Barnes Foundation said that McKinney and Berke had told them of their offer.

The company’s proposal to share its profits has been greeted cooly by Nicholas Tinari, a former Barnes student who opposes the collection’s move from Merion. “It seems like a marketing tactic, more than anything to do with saving the collection from being torn apart and moved to Philadelphia,” he said.

This is not the first time that sex threatens to shape the Barnes collection’s destiny. The doctor’s protégée, Violette de Mazia, is believed to have succeeded Barnes as the head of the foundation because she was his lover as well as his deputy. And Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario promoted its 1994 exhibition of paintings lent by the Barnes Foundation, many of them nudes, with bus advertisements saying: “Come see our bare naked ladies.”

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31 May 11
5:14 CET


Amelia, research is commendable, but the Barnes Foundation archivists gave archival "evidence" to suggest that Albert Barnes would have supported the removal of his collection from Merion to a replica. There is far more evidence for the completely opposite conclusion, including Albert Barnes' and John Dewey's testimony in Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the art collection and the Merion arboretum are "indivisble." The Friends' Court Brief has the quotations (see link in the Legal Matters section).

25 May 11
18:3 CET


Violette de Mazia was an amazing teacher. She was also the co author of almost all of Barnes books and she collected a very respectable art collection of her own. At this point, Mr. Tinari should consider all options if he really wants to "save" the Barnes. For me... once the education that De Mazia, Dewey and Barnes created was abandoned by the recent caretakers... and once Mr. Church and Sfarbi left... the art no longer serves the purpose Barnes laid out and maybe a new venue would at least help save it from a conservations perspective. It is all a sad state of affairs.

20 May 11
14:39 CET


The point here should be well taken,regardless of the man's proclivities,he has saved many thousands from suffering,even protracted death and so will also in the near future as Argyrol begins its Phoenix,soon,to recapture many more thousands from the slow death grip of resistant hospital infections. I know,I have seen and treated them,even my kin.

19 May 11
20:49 CET


Also worth noting that the canny Canadians were punning on the name of the top Canadian pop group of the time, Bare Naked Ladies.

19 May 11
16:35 CET


Please do your research in the future, one call to the Barnes Foundation's archivists would have informed you that Dr. Barnes and de Mazia were not romantically involved.

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