“The Art of the Steal”

When I saw this documentary years ago on Netflix Streaming, I initially thought it revolved around the world of art thieves.

I’m sure the filmmakers would claim that this film recounted a theft.

I did not expect a politically (not to mention emotionally) charged look at a fight over where an art collection would stay in Philadelphia. While I have seen it years ago, the memories of it still feel fresh in my mind.  To sum up the story, the documentary weaves a tale about noblesse oblige archetype Albert Barnes and his house of Modern art.  It celebrates Barnes as a pioneer in education and his bringing awareness of Modern art to the public.  After his death, came the fight over who would own the art, since it seemed that the people assigned to take care of Barnes’ house could not.  The documentary shows the debate so heated, that when the film includes a scene of a pro-Barnes activist going into his car, I expected it to blow up when he opened the door.

This documentary, to put it mildly, thumbs its nose at the entire museum establishment.  That attitude showed up at the beginning of documentary by sneering at how museums worked and how late they were to Modern art trends while Barnes had a keen eye for such works.

Four Boats at Grandcamp

Georges Seurat [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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