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The Art of the Steal

4.3 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features

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Product Details

  • Directors: Don Argott
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • DVD Release Date: July 27, 2010
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003JHXS1E
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,550 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Art of the Steal" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Swanson VINE VOICE on August 11, 2010
Format: DVD
4.5 stars

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.
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Format: DVD
Can something be both fantastic and utterly disgusting at the same time? If so, then this movie is it. I knew about this situation somewhat peripherally, but having it all laid out in front of me as it is in this film, just ties all the pieces together to what I think must be the art heist of the century. All you need to do is follow the money in this film to see who the real theives are. By the time it's over it is abundantly clear just what happened to the Barne's Foundation and its fabulous collection. You will be especially appalled by the corporate greed that surrounds the telling of this story and the corporate whore who is at the center of it.

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.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I watched this documentary at home one day with nothing else to do. I had gone to the Barnes Foundation and thought the art was beyond believable. This documentary was so unbelievable, the people who stole this art, the politicians who let this happen - what is the story with Philadelphia? Your governor, your mayor let this happen - they were proud that they should steal this art, they think it is for the benefit of the masses.
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?
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Format: DVD
Let me answer the "who cares" part of the Amazon.com official review. The answer? Everyone "should" care. Why? Because this film shows that YOUR will does not matter if those with money and power want something. Dr. Barnes had left a significant amount of money behind to take care of (in Walter Annenberg's words) his "family" and he had left what he thought was an iron-clad will. He did not forsee the political ambitions of Mayor John F. Street (check your facts, Amazon) and Governor Rendell, nor the "philanthropic" ambitions of the Pew Charitable Trusts (a "public" entity $5.8 billion in assets and $360million in revenue ... why do they have access to public funds and special tax breaks at this financial level??)

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!
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