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December 1, 2010

1

The Art of the Steal

by Franz Patrick


Art of the Steal, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Art of the Steal,” directed by Don Argott, focused on the struggle between what Dr. Albert C. Barnes indicated on his will regarding what would happen to his post-impressionist paintings that are currently worth over $25 billion and the Republican WASPs that controlled the city of Philadelphia. Many people, on either side, can bring up arguments about why we should or should not keep the highly valuable paintings in Dr. Barnes’ school located in the Philadelphia suburbs. But to me, the reason why the paintings should be kept at his property is as clear as day: it was stated in his will exactly what he wanted and it is unethical and immoral to not respect the person who earned the money and collected the paintings that everyone once thought were worth nothing. I loved the way the documentary was organized. Since I did not know much abour Dr. Barnes and his foundation, I was glad that the first fifteen minutes clearly explained who he was and his accomplishments. I thought it was fascinating and inspiring that Dr. Barnes came from a poor family but he put himself through school by taking jobs such as boxing. And even though he became rich due to certain medical breakthroughs he discovered, he welcomed the poor and the working class to view the paintings he collected. There was a certain poetry in the way the film eventually tackled the reason why Dr. Barnes learned to despise the rich republicans and key figures that led to the downfall of the Barnes Foundation. “The Art of the Steal” is a classic David vs. Goliath case only Goliath won in this story. By end of the movie, I did not quite know how to feel. On one hand, I thought it was empowering how Dr. Barnes was able to keep his art for so many years from money-craving individuals. On the other hand, it saddens me that people are willing to throw their morals and ethics out the window for money. The film could have been stronger if those that wanted to move the paintings to the city, even if they did not have big names, agreed to be interviewed. It would have been nice to hear their point of views and perhaps their insight could have added another layer of complexity to the issue. Ultimately, “The Art of the Steal” is a suspenseful documentary and it opened my eyes about philanthropic organizations and museums. I may not be an art connoisseur but I have a very good handle on what is right and what is wrong.

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Dec 1 2010

    The politics in the Barnes controversy are pretty fascinating – and sickening, too. In the movie, we see Walter Annenberg, super-Republican at work to unhinge the Barnes art collection from the historic Merion site designed by Albert Barnes, super-progressive. But in our time, it is Democratic Governor Ed Rendell with the Republican Attorney General Mike Fisher who orchestrate the legal maneuvers to pull off the heist.

    Reply

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