The Art of the Steal plays like a thrilling whodunit as it seeks to solve what happened to the world-renowned Barnes art collection, valued in the “billions and billions.” The collection’s unrivalled holdings of post-impressionist and early modernist art are staggering in quantity: 181 paintings by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne, 59 by Matisse and 46 by Picasso, including many masterpieces. Dr. Albert Barnes was a self-made man with a well-trained eye who assembled the art in the twenties. He snubbed the provincial elites in his hometown of Philadelphia by housing the collection in the suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania. Rather than group canvases by artist or era as in a typical gallery, he displayed work in an idiosyncratic way to express his own aesthetic vision. Barnes was more concerned with educating serious students in his vision than reaching casual tourists, so he restricted attendance and refused to loan paintings to other institutions. His individualism earned him antagonists (notably Walter Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer) but also many loyal supporters. Upon Barnes’s death in 1951, his will gave control of the collection to the trustees of Lincoln Uversity, the first black university in the United States. Eventually, lawyers and business people swarmed to exploit its resources. In the nineties, a sampling of the collection travelled the world on a multi-city tour (including Toronto). Then a scheme was hatched to permanently remove the collection from Merion that some would later call the heist of the century.
Director Don Argott previously made the endearing documentary RockSchool about another iconoclastic educator from Philadelphia. In The Art of the Steal, the filmmaker deftly adopts an investigative approach to unravel the complicated politics and personalities that determined the fate of the Barnes collection. Drawing upon research from John Anderson’s book Art Held Hostage, the film tantalizes us with the sumptuous imagery of the paintings, and features interviews full of intense conflicting opinions.
The story is full of twists, turns and double crosses. Along the way, multiple questions are raised: How is art best served? Should it be reserved for true connoisseurs or made available to the most eyeballs possible? And who decides? —Thom Powers (tiff.net)
For all of the bureaucratic and capitalist crookedness that has sabotaged the Barnes institution, I still find the film's agenda not only one-sided, but myopic and tough to swallow. This could've been a good opportunity to get into a dialogue of the contradictory nature of Albert Barnes' vision, who gets to access such art, the already heavily commodified art market, etc.
like i said, i haven't seen it, but i assume it's not clear that the barnes estate is in an extremely wealthy suburb filled to the brim with people who don't want children "from the city" bussed in for a visit? i was at the old-school barnes about three years ago. we had to park like 6 blocks down the road, it took over a month of planning to get in at all, at the visit was timed. also, i don't think people realize that the pew center does an awful lot for the city's arts community. i know a few people who've been pew fellows and a good friend of mine works for them. it's not all crooked capitalism. and even if it is, if it allows people to see matisse's "joy of life" for the first time, isn't that ok? (apologies... i get kinda fired up over this issue... i've started quasi-embarrassing IRL arguments over it, in fact.)
Este documental podría causar un gran dilema. Es pues el "arte" visto como un elemento puro o como un producto de mercado y consumo. Hay ese debate entre valorizar artísticamente (que para otros es idílicamente) o económicamente (que para su contrarios sería vana usura). Pero lo que no se pregunta el documental es: ¿podrán convivir ambos?
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"The much-anticipated documentary The Art of the Steal: The Untold Story of the Barnes Foundation looks at the shrewdly engineered takeover