Monday, July 26, 2010

Film Yap: The Art of the Steal

In 2005 documentary filmmaker Don Argott debuted with the movie Rock School. It was an entertaining parallel to School of Rock, but the subject matter never felt like it could fill up a whole movie. Years later, the game is totally changed with The Art of the Steal.

This is a story known to a lot of people who follow art and those who have a stake in Philadelphia tourism, but the rest of the world has probably never heard of The Barnes Foundation. Albert C. Barnes developed a drug that was a huge step against venereal diseases. This left him with a ton of money and he put it towards modern and post-impressionist art. Over time he created a house of over 800 paintings that is almost impossible to value, but the end result is undeniably in the billions.

Barnes was a very opinionated man. He had very strict beliefs about how The Barnes Foundation was to operate. It was supposed to be used for education, not for upholstery as he put it. Part of the week was devoted to students and teaching. It was not exactly open to the public. When he died, his will expressed his beliefs very clearly. The paintings were not to be moved.

Then people became greedy. In order to “repair the facilities” paintings were sent on a world tour in order to raise money. This starts a chain reaction where people are completely disregarding Barnes’s will and claiming this private collection for their own profitable use.

At the beginning of the movie, Argott does a great job setting up the artistic value of the Foundation. It plays off any admirer of art, regardless of the medium. He brings together a lot of experts who are really passionate about what is happening to the Foundation. In fact, later on we see one of the people interviewed in a crowd with a sign screaming at government officials. It doesn’t invalidate him; it actually makes him more credible in my mind.

The film does get a little weighed down once it becomes more complicated in all of the money changing hands and who has control over what. However the intensity is always there and it is a really compelling story. This is an angry and reactionary film, but that makes it very eye opening.

It doesn’t only speak to those who appreciate art, but those who are worried about what is considered private anymore. The Barnes Foundation was never a museum, but one man’s possessions. It’s scary to see what happens when that no longer is true.

Like a lot of films from IFC, this disc is empty with bonus features. All that was there was a trailer for this film and other films by IFC. So I guess it was useful because it reminded me that I really ought to see Mary and Max?

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: 1 Yap

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