Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor
The Art of the Steal: Movie Review
Backroom wranglings over the prestigious Barnes Foundation art collection play out as good guy vs. bad guy in 'The Art of the Steal' documentary.
No less an eminence than Henri Matisse once commented that The Barnes
Foundation is "the only sane place to see art in America."
Established in 1922 by the millionaire Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the
privately held foundation, housed in a 12-acre jewel-box-like
arboretum in leafy Lower Merion, Pa., five miles outside
Philadelphia, contains perhaps the greatest concentration of
post-Impressionist and early Modern masterpieces in the world - 181
Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis, 7
Van Goghs, to name just a few.
The combined value of these paintings, not to mention the Barnes's
extensive collection of African art; old masters; ancient Egyptian,
Greek, and Roman art; medieval manuscripts; and American paintings;
is more than $25 billion.
The documentary "The Art of the Steal," directed by Don Argott,
chronicles how the foundation, since Barnes's death in 1951, has been
undermined by Pennsylvania power brokers. Barnes's will stipulated
that the paintings would never be loaned, sold, or removed from the
building. Until Barnes's protegee, Violette de Mazia, died in 1988,
this was pretty much the status quo. Subsequently, through a series
of quasi-Machiavellian machinations, Barnes's will has been whittled
down. The collection, despite numerous protests, is now scheduled to
be removed from Merion and installed in 2012 in a new facility in
How did this come to pass? The filmmakers characterize the power
brokers - who include Gov. Edward Rendell, former foundation
president Richard Glanton, the late Walter Annenberg, and the Pew
Foundation - as the bad guys. Good guys include a pageant of angry
art critics and historians, NAACP chairman and Barnes family friend
Julian Bond, and former foundation members and students.
The film's good versus bad scenario is, while understandable, too
simplistic. To comprehend the dynamics of the situation, one needs to
go back to the foundation's origins. …