The Art of the Steal
Directed by Don Argott. US. 2009. NR. 101 minutes. IFC Films. 35mm.
Sponsored by Miller DesignWorks
Sun., March 18, 2012
“As a forward-thinking art collector in the 1920s, Dr. Albert Barnes snapped up an extraordinary wealth of post-impressionist and modernist paintings from the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, and Cezanne; though dismissed by tastemakers at the time, his collection is now valued in the tens of billions. In his will, Barnes was specific about what the trustees were to do with his assets: He wanted them to remain housed in his small, meticulously conceived institution in the Philadelphia suburb of Merion, never to be loaned out or sold to other museums. He wanted the Barnes trustees to continue his educational mission. And most of all, he wanted to make sure the corporate foundations and politicians in Philly didnt get their grubby paws on it.
Don Argotts gripping documentary The Art Of The Steal is about how Barnes seemingly ironclad wishes were withered away by unscrupulous trustees, coffer-draining legal battles, and the overwhelming force of a city looking to bring in the tourist dollar. There are two sides of the storythe other being that the Barnes Foundation simply didnt have the capital to be a sustainable entitybut the film makes its allegiances clear. And that isnt a bad thing: In this David-and-Goliath story, Goliath kicks the ever-loving shit out of David, and the film is convincing and righteous in its advocacy. It also leaves behind some troubling questions about the runaway commoditization of art, the extent to which it does or does not belong the public, and just how much power the individual really has in society. Argott (Rock School) doesnt add much new information to a story thats played out in headlines and editorial pages for decades, but The Art Of The Steal consolidates it into a damning example of justice bending toward those who can most afford to buy it.” (Scott Tobias, The Onion A.V. Club)
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