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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close