Review: The Art of the Steal DVD

STUDIO: IFC/MPI | DIRECTOR: Don Argott
RELEASE DATE: 7/27/2010 | PRICE: DVD $24.98
BONUSES: none
SPECS: NR | 101 min. | Documentary | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

The battle over moving the treasured art collection of the Barnes Foundation has been a controversial issue for both art patrons of the world and the people of Philadelphia for several years. The powerfully realized documentary The Art of the Steal chronicles the struggles in entertaining fashion, while raising important issues regarding art, commerce, propriety, race and the importance — or lack of importance — of one’s dying wishes.

The film offers fascinating background on the ongoing fight, delving into the life of Albert C. Barnes, a scientist who made a fortune by inventing the anti-VD drug Argyrol, then investing his money in artwork by the likes of Cezanne, Renoir and Van Gogh, which was showcased in a Philly suburb where the collection became less accessible for the public to view. Barnes had a feud with the Philadelphia power brokers and requested his collection be displayed in a specific way and used primarily for educational reasons. But, as the film surmises, the works were wrested away from his foundation after he died and are now set to be part of a new multi-million-dollar museum located on the heavily traveled Philadelphia Parkway.

The movie tells a fascinating story, told from the art experts’ points of view, that often sacrifices its supposed objectivity to make its case about keeping the Barnes collection where it is. But the documentary raises many salient points, especially when it digs into the corruption, mismanagement and self interests used by the forces in tandem to have the Barnes Foundation moved to its new home. Whether that new home is appropriate or not — at least, according to the filmmaker Don Argott (Rock School) — remains obvious throughout.

 

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About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.