Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Art of the Steal Documentary


Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Gate reviewed the documentary film, "The Art of the Steal," on 12 March 2010: Don Argott's "The Art of the Steal" makes a masterly but completely one-sided case against the plan - now a done deal - to move the incomparable Barnes Foundation collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art out of its suburban Philadelphia home. In 2012, it will relocate to a yet-to-be-built facility downtown, walkable from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Philadelphia native Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) - "a misanthrope," even in the opinion of one of his champions in the film - made a fortune nearly a century ago in the pharmaceutical business. He then spent freely to compile one of the most forward-looking private collections of modern art ever assembled. He had a facility custom built for display of the art, which he defined as an educational institution, and he established a foundation to oversee access to it, prohibiting its exploitation for profit.

As Argott's film has it, Barnes pointedly defied the elite Philadelphia interests that had disparaged his collection early on, and later set their sights on it, after the art market vindicated Barnes' taste big time. As a tourist magnet for Philadelphia proper, the "new Barnes" will rock.

Albert C. Barnes

To cock a snook at the swells, Barnes left his collection in trust to Lincoln University, a small, historically African American college in Pennsylvania, a fact that casts a shadow - of condescension at best, of racism at worst - over efforts to wrest control of the Barnes Collection from Lincoln.

Argott and heavyweight witnesses, including Julian Bond at his most charismatic, speak for Barnes and Lincoln, they believe. No one speaks for the downtown plan, at least not directly to Argott's camera.


The film may well leave viewers feeling they've been bullied by an expert. But it will also leave them wondering, as one interlocutor finally asks at the end, who speaks for the art. (source: San Francisco Gate)


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