Reviews for February 26th, 2010
The Art of the Steal
Directed by Don Argott. This fascinating and suspenseful documentary charts the dramatic events that occurred when politicians along with art institutions struggled to move the Barnes Foundation from the small suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania all the way to the city of Philadelphia, against the wishes of its founderís will. At the age of 50, Dr. Albert C. Barnes had already collected a variety of early Modern and Post-Impressionist paintings ranging from works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Van Gogh, among others, with a cumulative value of over $25 billion today. He displayed the paintings in a small museum outside of Philadelphia specifically so that everyday people who arenít so accustomed to viewing artworks would get the chance to do so. Moreover, he looked down upon the elitist art critics who considered his art collection to be nothing more than junk. When he died in a car accident back in 1951, he stated clearly in his will that Lincoln University ought to have control over the Barnes Foundation and the painting ought to stay at its small museum in Merion no matter what. The Foundationís endowment was mishandled throughout the years, leaving the Foundation vulnerable for other institutions to purchase and move it to another location in an attempt to save the collection. Director Don Argott looks at many different sides of the issue by interviewing former attorney general Mike Fisher, former Barnes president Richard Glanton as well as friends of Barnes, among others, who shed light from their perspective. You might find it a little difficult to assess the moral implications of moving of the Barnes Foundation objectively because the filmís title directly states that whatís occurring is a theft of art. In reality, though, the issue of the theft has a lot of grey area and itís somewhat exciting to watch the footage of the desperate battle to respect Barnesí wishes. No matter which side of the issue you choose to lean toward, youíll probably feel enraged at how this microcosm of greed, lack of appreciation for an art collectorís wishes, and simple-mindedness about the art can lead to corruption with the help of politicians, not surprisingly, and a cross of moral boundaries. Ultimately, The Art of the Steal manages to be a thoroughly compelling, well-edited and riveting documentary that finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Released by IFC Films. Opens at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.