Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Art of the Steal

This is the greatest mis-justice of art since the Nazi Art Theft of the second world war.

A celebrated selection of the Sundance, Toronto, New York and AFI Film Festivals, Don Argott’s gripping documentary THE ART OF THE STEAL chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of art valued at more than $25 billion. A riveting look at the divisive politics of powerful institutions, the film is an un-missable investigation of the one of the art world’s most fascinating controversies. In 1922, Dr. Albert C. Barnes formed a remarkable educational institution around his priceless collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art, located just five miles outside of Philadelphia. At its inception, the city’s cultural elite had scorned the collection as “horrible, debased art”, but soon times and tastes changed. Now, more than 50 years after Barnes’ death, a powerful group of moneyed interests have gone to court for control of the art, and intend bring it to a new museum in Philadelphia. Standing in their way is a vocal group of Barnes’ former students, and Barnes’ will, which contained strict instructions stating the Foundation shall always be an educational institution, and the paintings may never be removed. Will they
succeed, or will a man’s will be broken and one of America’s greatest cultural monuments be destroyed?

The Fight is lost

The magnificent Barnes Foundation, just outside the city limits in suburban Merion, will enchant you with its thoroughly unique display of one of the world’s most important art collections. Albert Barnes crammed his French Provincial mansion (ca. 1925) with more than 1,000 works of genius — 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 46 Picassos, innumerable Impressionists and post-Impressionists, early moderns and a generous sampling of European art from the Italian primitives onward. Each wall is filled with recognizable masterpieces, hung, literally, from floor to ceiling. The Barnes reopened in November 1995 after a world tour of more than 80 masterworks from the collection and a $12-million renovation of the galleries.

Barnes believed that art has a quality that can be explained objectively — for example, one curve will be beautiful and hence art, and another that’s slightly different will not be art. That’s why the galleries display antique door latches, keyholes, keys, and household tools with strong geometric lines right next to the paintings. Connections beg to be drawn between neighboring objects — an unusual van Gogh nude, an Amish chest, New Mexican rural icons. Virtually every first-rank European artist is included: Degas, Seurat, Bosch, Tintoretto, Lorrain, Chardin, Daumier, Delacroix, Corot, and more. Not a bad use of a fortune made from patent medicine!

In 2004, a federal judge ruled that the Barnes may move its collection to Philadelphia. The planned spot is along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, replacing a boys’ prison. Ground broke in October 2008 for the new facility. Opening date is to be announced.


The silly stereotype of the tragic genius

Have you ever had an idea pop into your head, for example when you woke up after an afternoon nap?  As cool as that is, it can be disorienting when ideas just come out of nowhere.  But what’s really scary is those stereotypes of tragic geniuses, mad artists and suicidal poets…  So, does creativity really demand a dangerous surrender to mysterious forces?

In a word, no.  Because creativity uses so much of you (mind, will, imagination, emotion, and so on), dedicating yourself to a creative project enables your unconscious mind to jump in and help out.  That’s unusual for many of us, and it can feel strange.  It can also look strange to others, because focusing so intently can make us seem spacey.

But in fact, creativity is healthy.  It energizes you, builds your self-esteem, and just in general makes you better at living.  It also makes for healthier cultures, capable of growth and adaptation in the face of challenges.

That said, don’t overdo.  If you’re working hard on a creative project, make sure you take the time to eat, sleep, and care for your body.  Treat the people around you with respect, asking for their support instead of pushing them away.  Smile more, worry less.  Be persistent, and also patient.

And when you complete your project, take the time to be proud and happy!  That sounds pretty sane, to me.


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