Saturday, August 13, 2011
The Art of the Steal
This 2009 documentary not only fascinated me, but it enraged me. It is the story of the fantastic art collection of Dr. Barnes. Dr. Barnes passed away in 1951 and was one of the first Americans to bring post-impressionist and modern art over from Europe. In the early 1920s he organized a showing of his large collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That exhibit was ridiculed and insulted by the established art world in and around Philadelphia. He then created an art school, moved his collection to a large mansion in the suburbs and sheltered it from large public displays. Upon his death his only request was that the art "never be moved or sold" and that it not be shown to large crowds.
Fast-forward to the 1990s. Now his collection is one of the most revered in the world. The Philadelphia art establishment that ridiculed and insulted him now want to get their greedy, grubby paws on all that art. Lawyers are hired, stooges are put in place, trusts are busted and wills are ignored. Oh well, who cares? Dr. Barnes is dead and the powerful and famous want the art.
The Art of the Steal documents the history and future of this fabulous art collection. As I said, I got a little angry while viewing this film. My wife left the room and told me not to tell her what happens. But, in many ways, that is the sign of a great documentary. I think you too will be angry, frustrated and/or sad by the goings-on documented here. One thing you won't be is bored!
One note about the Dr. Barnes collection. I have traveled to many parts of the world to see great, and not-so-great, art. I have never seen this collection and would love to. But, I respect the wishes of the man who worked so hard to put this collection together more than I desire to see the art. A dying man's wishes, spelled out to the letter in his will, should be followed.
The collection is perhaps the greatest private art collection in the world. It contains, among other pieces:
181 pieces by Renoir, 69 by Cezanne, 59 by Matisse, 46 by Picasso, 21 by Soutine, 18 by Rousseau, 16 by Modigliani, 11 by Degas, 7 by Van Gogh, 6 by Seurat as well as pieces by El Greco, Gaugin, Manet, Goya and Chirico. Amazing.
Made in 2009, directed by Don Argott.