The Art of the Steal

The Art of the Steal

Our DVD collection is amazing. From the latest feature and foreign films to television series and documentaries, it's easy to browse the shelves on a regular basis and come across 50 items I want to check out all at once. I recently watched a film that was so engrossing, I thought I would share my pick with you. So here you go, just in case you find yourself lost in DVD wonderland this weekend and unsure of which way to turn.

The Art of the Steal tells the story of the hugely controversial opening of the Barnes Foundation campus in center city Philadelphia. In the first half of the 20th century, Albert C. Barnes, a successful scientist and art collector, had developed what is arguably the most admired collection of Modernist and post-Impressionist artworks in the world. It is valued by some at $25 billion. Barnes made the collection available to students and educators, housing it in a mansion in suburban Merion, Pennsylvania. Art crtitics and the public were rarely granted access. Barnes's will clearly indicated his desires for the collection to be maintained in the mansion, for the benefit of art students, in perpetuity. 

Decades after Barnes's death in 1951, a huge political battle launched over the location and purpose of the collection. Artists, historians, and lawyers wanted to honor Barnes’s will and keep the collection in the mansion. Politicians and fundraisers in Philadephia, however, recognized a huge opportunity to boost tourism, benefit financially, and improve access to the collection by moving it to downtown Philly. 

How can one completely disregard a man's legal will? On the other hand, how can one deprive millions of people access to some of the most spectacular art in the world? Who is right, and who is wrong? The film certainly doesn't shy away from answering these questions, and its agenda is very clear. The Rotten Tomatoes review concludes, "Deeply esoteric and unapologetically one-sided, The Art of the Steal proves a documentary doesn't have to make an objective argument as long as it argues well." This is a fascinating examination of power, law, politics, and integrity, and one that will surely leave you entertained this week.

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