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Penn Law & the Arts excursion to the Barnes Foundation exposes students to artwork and art law

November 14, 2018

On November 2, Penn Law & the Arts (PLATA), a student organization that explores the intersection between the legal and arts communities, held an event at the Barnes Foundation. PLATA hosted the event with the support of a discretionary grant from Penn Law’s Student Affairs Office and Dean of Students Monica Monroe, which permitted 25 students to attend.

The Barnes is a Philadelphia institution that houses a collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern art. During the event, docents led small groups around the building, stopping at pieces that were personally important to the life of Foundation founder Dr. Alan C. Barnes M’1892, or that made valuable contributions to broader arts movements. 

The Barnes houses pieces from such masters as Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. Because it remains one the most valuable private collections of art in the world, the Barnes has attracted much attention from both arts and legal observers.

Tours of the museum were followed by a conversation with Sara Geelan, General Counsel of the Barnes Foundation, who detailed the controversial relocation of the Barnes from Lower Merion, PA to Philadelphia. Despite the heated debate, she noted, Barnes demonstrated extraordinary vision in curating his at collection: At a time when post-Impressionist artists were selling their work for mere thousands, he amassed an unconventional assortment of pieces now worth millions.

Geelan also offered students guidance on careers in art law. She spoke about her academic background in arts history, which— combined with her law degree from Columbia University opened opportunities in the niche and notoriously exclusive field of art law. After stints at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Geelan found her place at the Barnes and now works on transactional matters related to tax law and trusts and estates. Her message to Penn Law students was clear: for those interested in employing their legal background in furtherance of the arts, the possibilities are endless.