Monday, July 18, 2011
video topic: art
entry type: Documentary,
video title: The Art of the Steal
artist featured: mixed
director: Don Argott
producer: Sheena M. Joyce (9.14 Pictures)
run time: 101 mins
release date: 2009
description and preview:
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The Art of the Steal is a 2009 documentary film about the decades-long efforts to resolve financial problems of the Barnes Foundation, an esoteric collection of mostly Modernist and post-Impressionist artworks, resulting in the officers' decision to break Albert C. Barnes's will and relocate the collection from Lower Merion to Philadelphia. The emphasis of the film is on the breaking of Barnes' will.
The film covers "the decades-long controversy over the museum’s fortunes and its eventual decision to abandon its longtime home for new quarters in downtown Philadelphia." The Barnes Foundation, operating a gallery located in a residential neighborhood, with restrictions on access, reproduction and touring of its works, struggled financially to survive for decades. Several years ago, it succeeded in challenging the will to enable it to send some pieces on tour to earn enough money for needed renovations to the facility to preserve the artwork and provide security. Finally its leaders decided to move to Philadelphia, which offered incentives including a highly accessible site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, its museum corridor.
The highly valuable collection of late-19th- and early-20th-century art includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos, and 14 Modiglianis. The 9,000-piece collection is valued at over $25 billion. The foundation could not earn enough revenue from visitors at its location to operate the facility and preserve the works.
While the film includes journalists, art historians and public figures on both sides of the long debate, many of the figures discussed in it, for example, Rebecca Rimel (CEO of the Pew Charitable Trust, the group which purportedly benefited financially from the Barnes' move), Raymond G. Perelman (a powerful local billionaire alleged to have orchestrated the move); and Bernard C. Watson (the president of the Barnes Foundation, who was accused of giving over its control to the Philadelphia authorities), declined to be interviewed for the documentary.
The director Don Argot wanted to present an argument, not an objective piece, as he found himself identifying strongly with those who wanted to maintain the collection in its original location. His emphasis was on the breaking of the will, and he used graphics to show its clauses being challenged and overcome, one by one, which some viewers might consider "heavy handed".
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