The Art of the Steal
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It s been called the greatest theft of art since the Second World War. THE ART OF THE STEAL reveals how a private collection of paintings became the envy of the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other major institutions and the prize in a battle between one man s vision and the forces of commerce and politics. Founded in 1922 by wealthy American drug developer and art collector Albert C. Barnes, the Barnes Foundation became the finest collection of paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh and other masters. Housed in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, the Barnes Foundation was envisioned by Barnes as an art school, not a public museum, but ever since Barnes death in 1951, the fight over its future has been underway. On one side are the artists, historians and lawyers defending Barnes wish that the entire collection (valued at over $25 billion) never be moved, loaned or sold; and on the other side, the politicians, huge charitable trusts, tourism boards and rich socialites pushing to relocate it to downtown Philadelphia. This is a real-life David vs. Goliath story, a tale of suspense in which hangs the fate of some of the most sublime works of art ever created.
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This movie's weakness---its favoritism towards one side of the case---is also its strength, as that side is so obviously in the legal and moral right here. Barnes wanted his insanely fine modern art collection left as it was, to be used mainly as a school. He took much care in setting it up as a uniquely low key semi-museum that showed these works in the venue and manner that he chose, and he wanted it that way in perpetuity. Part of that desire was clearly to snub the idiots who ran the Philly Museum of Art, who derided his collection when they hadn't yet been informed---by people who actually knew something about art---that they should like this art.
Art Of The Steal is the tale of their heirs' obviously conspiratorial revenge against Barnes, for having been so right about both his collection and their apparently infinite greed, stupidity, and phoniness. Modern sleazeball heirs of older sleazeball fortunes, like the gangster-money Annenbergs and the hilariously/painfully Machiavellian Becky Rimel, merge here with newly minted sleazy politicians like Bernie Watson, "Judge" Ott, Ricky Glanton, and other patently paid off workers of the political system of Philly, which looks to be about as honest as Chicago's. They all see The Main Chance for their careers and bank accounts, and the best part is how they posit themselves as saviors of the public good while robbing the Barnes Foundation and Lincoln University blind. (And surprise! The 1998 audit that claimed the BF was broke, conveniently ignoring their endless ways to generate cash, was by Deloitte Touche, the slippery Brit accountants heavily linked to so many bailout scams and also to Sotheby's, the art world's greatest crooks.Read more ›
Is it a crime to be eccentric? That is basically what the entire string of thinking that promulgated by the high profile crowd in this film seems to say about Dr. Barnes. And frankly, that's the biggest lie I've ever heard. Does being eccentric invalidate a man's will? It certainly shouldn't, but that is what has been allowed to happen. The people of Philadelphia turned there backs on Dr. Albert Barnes once in his life when they were too small minded to share his forsight, but then when he was gone, they wanted to reap the spoils of his genius.
But at the same time, I think the neighbors of the Barnes Foundation should shoulder a great amount of the blame for what happened here too. Had they kept their big mouths shut in the first place, much of this whole thing could have been avoided. What really cracks me up is that the Barnes Foundation has most likely been there longer than any of its neighbors. They moved there knowing it was there... but alas.
Anyway, watch this film, think about what it says, and be just as enraged as I was by it. It is a travesty of grand proportions.
Why would the will of an individual not be honored by law? Everything Dr. Barnes wanted is now being disregarded. It is a crime, I mean it is really a serious crime concerning billions of dollars of art that is being disregarded. What are your thoughts?
So why should you care? Because it means -simply- that what you want to have done with your possessions after you pass does not amount to a hill of beans if outside political and financial interests stand in your way.
Another reason to see the film? It plays like a great thriller!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very interesting documentary. Makes you want to take part of the protest against moving the works of art.Published 2 months ago by Fernando R. González Sandino
amazing story. didn't know they whole back story and i was blown awayPublished 2 months ago by melanie hauser
Interesting story but too one-sided to provide a balanced perspective. Actually, I found myself somewhat more sympathetic to the facilitators of the relocation of the collection... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Arnold Kahn
Biased account of controversial matter, but very well done and definitely worth watching. You can't make this stuff up.Published 3 months ago by Ed Livingston
Good flick - interesting story. Would love to see how the naysayers respond to the actual new site, though.Published 3 months ago by JMC