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The Art of the Steal
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ART FOR WHOSE SAKE?
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.
Director Don Argott's documentary about the controversial move of the Barnes art collection to downtown Philadelphia, The Art of the Steal, is so adamantly against the relocation that it feels as if the viewer is watching evidence presented in a murder trial. Ex-Barnes student Lenny Feinberg funded the film, openly intending it to be an argument against the relocation, in recent years, of the Barnes Foundation, which was established in 1922. Albert Barnes envisioned his foundation as an art school rather than a museum, and he wrote a detailed will to dictate the future of his highly desirable collection (valued at $25 billion) of impressionist and postimpressionist works by artists like Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, van Gogh, Cezanne, and others. The film focuses on interviews given by people on both sides: advocates and art advisers, critics such as Christopher Knight, professors such as Dr. Robert Zaller, and those under fire, like Richard Glanson, ex-Barnes president who planned dubious legislation in the 1990s to move the art from its rural location. Copious research into what some call a crime shows, and one almost gets too clear a picture of, how a private art collection can be usurped through government. Yet the film's didacticism is also its weakness. Typewriters in the credits amid slips of torn paper with typewritten notes, black backdrops with title headings for each chapter that melodramatically read "The Last Living Apostle" or "The Takeover," offer little in the way of interpretative opinion. Midway through this well-played, strategic film there appears a bulletin board of "key players," those politicians and socialites who enabled Albert Barnes's art collection to move against Barnes's will. Even Philadelphia mayor John F. Scott, who holds a press conference to announce that the collection will be relocated to the city, comes out looking fiendish because some art was moved to a new location. While art-world viewers may find the story in The Art of the Steal as offensive as Argott obviously does, some viewers may be left wondering Who cares? --Trinie Dalton
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Top customer reviews
should have been left undisturbed. I will NEVER visit the Parkway location.
said the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Much the same language could be used to describe the sad story of the Barnes Foundation. This documentary film chronologies the history of "The Barns" (which was founded by the eccentric multi-millionaire pharmaceutical manufacture Dr. Albert C. Barnes) and its serendipitous ownership of over $35 Billion (WOW!) dollars of post-impressionist art - by some measurement more than exists within the City of Paris.
The film seeks to portray all of the dark forces of "the establishment", who appeared to have engaged in a coordinated and self-serving attack to divert the Foundation from its stated purposes and into a more "conventional art experience" - culminating in the relocation of the collection into the art district of the City of Philadelphia. The film frequently states that Dr, Barnes consulting with "... the best attorneys to draw up his will ..." (as well as deed of trust for his art foundation). The film explains in great detail how this governing trust instrument was systemically circumvented, ignored, overridden, watered down and vacated to the point of irrelevancy.
However, after view the DVD several times, I began to feel that this treasure trove of art was essentially doomed from its inception (in my option); given my understanding of tax, and not-for-profit organizational operations. There is an old proverb that states, "Revenge is a dish best served cold". Dr Barnes' attempt to "spite" the conventional world of art and culture, which had previously belittled him (personally) and his art collection; simply set in motion powerful forces that, over time, allied against the foundation and ultimately undermined its functionality.
Midway through the film, one of the interviewees makes a comments (to the effect) "about what might have been"; if the Foundation had included proper oversight and foresight. In my view this statement summarizes the essence and the great sadness of this documentary film: THE ART OF THE STEAL. While this magnificent collection will now be seen and appreciated by a greater potion of the general public; the uniqueness of the Barnes Collection has been lost forever.