Robert Venturi (Photo credit: George Widman, Associated Press)

Robert Venturi, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect and lifelong resident of Philadelphia, has written a stinging letter in opposition to a controversial plan to dismantle the suburban Barnes Foundation and relocate its unparalleled collection of postimpressionist and early Modern art from its specially designed 1925 building to a new, tourist-friendly structure near downtown.

The schematic design for the new building is scheduled to be unveiled Wednesday in Philadelphia.

In a letter to opponents of the move obtained by The Times, Venturi decries the $200-million project as “an indiscrete and ridiculous waste of money.” The celebrated architect is the most prominent cultural figure in the city to publicly oppose the plan, which was initiated by a powerful group of local philanthropies, politicians and business interests.

The Barnes collection in suburban Lower Merion Township includes 69 paintings by Cezanne, 59 by Matisse, 46 by Picasso, seven by Van Gogh and scores more by Renoir, Degas, Modigliani, Soutine and many other Modern masters. They were acquired in the early 20th century by pharmaceuticals manufacturer Albert C. Barnes, who died in a 1951 automobile accident.


Christopher Knight
Los Angeles Times

At a packed hearing, the Philadelphia Art Commission gave unanimous approval this morning to the overall design concept for a new Barnes Foundation building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, virtually clearing the way for construction to begin as early as November.

The $200 million museum, designed by New York’s Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to house the unsurpassed collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, will be located on a 200,000-square-foot site between 20th and 21st Streets.


Stephan Salisbury