A compelling polemic by Philly-based Don Argott, The Art of the Steal looks at the bitter, decades-long fight over the Barnes Foundation and its singular, $25-billion-dollar art collection.
Created in 1922 by Albert C. Barnes, an early 20th-century industrialist and voracious art collector whose bio reads like Horatio Alger, the Barnes Foundation made its Merion, Pennsylvania home a mecca for aesthetes, with eyefuls of brand-name paintings (i.e. 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos) and only-here ephemera such as Native American ceramics. Barnes passed away in 1951, but his will declared that the works never be loaned, moved, or sold — that is until a few powerful figures in Philly saw the dollar signs in the impressionistic swirls.
Argott employs gabbing partisans, graphics, and archival footage to present a case that continues to open fault lines in the art world.
The Art of the Steal is an IFC film in limited release. It’s currently playing in New York, and will be available at theaters in Los Angeles beginning March 12. Check it out in Chicago at Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and Block Cinema on March 10.