Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gardner Art Heist Style Robbery Prevented at the Barnes Art Collection, Cezanne's "The Card Players" Saved !!

Barnes Rejects Montgomery County Lease Offer

By Jeremy Rogoff
Barnes Foundation Chairman Bernard C. Watson has turned down a funding proposal offered by Montgomery County to keep the historic art collection in its Merion home.
Watson rejected the proposal Monday in a letter to a lawyer representing the county, saying the foundation had made binding commitments to Philadelphia to relocate to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. He added that the "decision is irreversible."

In a written statement, a spokesman for the foundation said today that "the Barnes Foundation has already raised $150 million from a broad base of donors, has the steady support of the city of Philadelphia and a lease for a city block on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and will shortly pick a world-class architect to build a new home for the art collection to fulfill its mission."

In a letter sent June 12, Montgomery County asked the foundation to consider selling the county the building where the art collection is housed and the grounds, with the county using tax-exempt bonds to raise money for the purchase. The art collection would remain where it is, and the Barnes would pay rent to the county by investing profits from the sale.

Mark Schwartz, a lawyer hired by Montgomery County to keep the Barnes in Merion, criticized Watson's swift rejection of the proposal, saying that the chairman "turned down this offer with the brush of a hand."

Schwartz vowed he would continue the fight in Montgomery County Orphans' Court, claiming Watson was disregarding "his fiduciary resposibility," to the foundation.

Barnes Rebuffs Montco Offer
By: Jim McCaffrey, The Bulletin

Philadelphia - And they are off to court.
Once again the Barnes Foundation has probably landed itself in court, where it will again have to defend its decisions. This comes thanks to its response yesterday to Montgomery County's offer to create an endowment for the foundation. The county believes it can do this by purchasing the Barnes' properties using money from the sale of low interest, county-backed bonds and leasing the properties back to the foundation.

The offer would create a fund worth "at least" $50 million, according to Montco attorney in this matter Mark Schwartz.

Yesterday, Bernard Watson, chairman of the Barnes Foundation, rejected the Montco offer.
"The Barnes Foundation intends to fulfill its mission 'to promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of fine arts' by moving the gallery collection to the site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway provided to us by the city of Philadelphia," Watson said in his reply.
"Over the years, the board of trustees has considered all reasonable proposals presented to us. At this juncture, we have now made binding commitments to carry out the move of the gallery collection to Philadelphia and the decision is irreversible."

The bond money would purchase the foundation's property in Lower Merion as well as its Chester County estate known as Ker Feal.
Interest on $50 million would amount to approximately $3.5 million a year. Payments to the county would be only $2.5 million a year, leaving the Barnes a $1 million per year financial cushion.

The deal is contingent on the Barnes Foundation agreeing to keep its $30 billion art collection in its Merion home. The plan has the virtue of using no taxpayer money.
The foundation last year negotiated a deal with the Lenfest Foundation, the Pew Foundation, the Annenberg Foundation, the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania to move the Barnes art collection to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

So far the state has committed $25 million in matching grant funds to the move.
After watching silently from the sidelines as the foundation struggled to overcome hurdles placed before it by the efforts of Walter Annenberg's lawyers, Montgomery County finally decided last week it should probably make a last-minute jump to try and rescue what are undeniably its crown jewels.

This decision also comes after taking no action when zoning laws imposed by the township handcuffed the Barnes' ability to raise the visibility of its collection, and after county watchdogs did not even so much as a bark when the Philadelphia came in and made the deal to steal away the fabulous art collection.

Schwartz promised he would now take the offer to Montgomery County Orphans' Court where he will ask Judge Stanley Ott to decide if the Foundation is properly fulfilling its fiduciary duty by rejecting the Montgomery County offer.
"One of the interesting things is understanding the mindset," Schwartz explained in a phone conversation yesterday. "The fiduciary is supposed to exhaust all its options. It's not for Bernard Watson to sit on a throne and wait to be presented with options. They could have gone to the county and said 'let's do this financing.'

"They feel like they don't have to do anything. They act like they are above it all. Now the emperor has no clothes. I don't believe Bernard Watson's testimony that the foundation exhausted all its options before reaching out to the Pew Foundation."

He added, "Bernard Watson is not only contemptuous of his responsibility to the trust, he is not only contemptuous of Montgomery County and Judge Ott, he is contemptuous of tax payers."

Jim McCaffrey can be reached at

Art Hostage comments:

It is with considerable interest that I watch how this develops because of a personal interest and connection to the Barnes Art Collection.

Let me begin, it was in January 2005 that information was received from the Underworld about Irish Gangsters, with Traveller connections from the West of Ireland, and who's members had been responsible for some of the biggest high profile art thefts of recent times, had been to the United States for Automatic weapons training on the East Coast of America..

This was a result of several failed assassination attempts because of poor shooting accuracy as well as the lack of training to use automatic weapons.

The West of Ireland Organised crime Clans have possession of, an interest in, and access to, some of the most valuable stolen art in the world currently outstanding. Vermeer and co from the Gardner Museum Boston, Da Vinci from Scotland, Cezanne from Oxford England, White Duck from Norfolk England, Harry Hyams unique artworks etc etc.

The only way to recover these items is to buy them back, or offer a deal that may involve less jail time. Distasteful as this may be, it is the only way left, as numerous attempts to try and sting these Irish Clansmen have all failed, and nearly led to a gun battle last fall.

Whilst in the United States honing their weapons skills, these Irish Traveller Gangsters met with American/Irish Travellers who hail from a place called Murphy Village South Carolina.

(Contact was also established with Irish Travellers who live in Mansions outside Dallas, and who obtain their considerable wealth by conning the elderly across the United States into paying extortionate amounts for shoddy sub-standard building work. These high rollers, within the Irish Travelling community of America, also organise art and antiques thefts from their building work customers, who are often elderly and have valuable art and antiques.)

During the Modus Vivendi meeting the subject of the Barnes Art Collection came up and because of all the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the collection, perhaps there was chance to execute a Art Heist similar to that of the Gardner Heist in Boston 1990.

Similar type of location, not high tech security, in-experienced guards on low pay etc.

Shocked at this news, Art Hostage contacted FBI Agent Robert Wittman to discuss how to counter this threat.

Such was the shock and horror FBI Agent Robert Wittman headed for the Barnes straight away to conduct a brand new security assessment and put the Barnes Art Collection on lock down.

Subsequent threats were neutralised, not least by the public show of high security and visible increase in visitor awareness.

Now the Barnes is back in the news it has me thinking that the art collection could still be in danger, especially when it moves to its new location, and would it be best if the FBI Art Crime Team personally oversee the transportation?

There is always a risk of a private security transportation guard being corrupted which could lead to a hold up.

I shudder to think if after all the controversy surrounding the Barnes Art Collection, a number of artworks get stolen, especially "The Card Players" by Cezanne, which resonates like the "The Concert" by Vermeer stolen from the Gardner Museum.

Don't worry, I have communicated my fears to FBI Agent Robert Wittman, who, I am sure has put in place mechanisms that will prevent any Gardner style Art Heist.

I expect the Barnes Art Collections most valuable works, including Cezanne's "The Card Players" will be escorted to their new home via the Presidential limousine, accompanied personally by FBI Agent Robert Wittman.

The game is to identify targets that Art thieves have also looked at, then plug any security gaps to make the Art thieves look elsewhere. The only loss is travel expenses for the Art Thieves.

Prevention is better than cure.

Just another tale of how a major art theft was thwarted.

Upon another note, it has been the topic of conversation around the art related crime world about FBI Agent Robert Wittman retiring this coming October, and to add insult to injury, the FBI Art Crime Team is to be down-graded, a victim of it's own huge success.

If Bob Wittman does retire, then what a golden opportunity for the Barnes Art Collection to employ a man who strides across the Art World like a Colossus.

Head of Security at the Barnes collection will only be one of many titles awaiting FBI Agent Robert Wittman in retirement.

U.S. Culture Secretary, Hollywood Crime Host, Cultural Author...etc


Anonymous said...

Bob's much more well-suited for a high-paying consultancy Art Hostage! He'll have to leave the security work for guys like me! Anthony

realheroes said...

Paisley disapproves of card playing so the Cezanne is not likely to join the Vermeer in his secret den.

Anonymous said...

Heres what Judge Ott is up to now.