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The Art of the Steal

MPI Home Video, 2009, Not Rated

By Cole Smithey · July 28th, 2010 · Couch Potato
In a quiet borough of Lower Merion, Penn., sits the greatest collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art that people have never heard of. Don Argot’s passionate documentary examination of the art collection’s outright theft by Philadelphia power mongers could help change that level of ignorance, but not in time to prevent it’s seizure by the Philadelphia Museum of Art —�scheduled for 2012.

During his lifetime (1922-1925), self-made millionaire Dr. Albert Barnes amassed the collection (valued at over $25 billion in 2009) that includes an incredible number of Cézannes, Matisses, Modiglianis, Picassos and Renoirs.

Intent on protecting the art, Barnes created a foundation that housed it in a bi-level villa doubling as an educational institution and museum. Before his death he entrusted the foundation to Lincoln University, a small black college with strict instructions that it always remain an educational facility and that the art never be removed.

But in the early 1990s those in charge of the foundation lost sight of Barnes’ vision and began to chip away at its security. The Art of the Steal is a well-researched and fascinating look into an endemic raping and pillaging of culture exacted with an erroneous idea that “culture is industry.”

Along with the defiant voices of the former Barnes Foundation students attempting to save it, the film is a not-so-veiled plea for someone or some entity to save the Barnes Foundation before it’s too late. If only that could happen. Grade: A



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