Movie Review Rewind: The Art of the Steal (2010)
The Art of the Steal is a mind-blowing documentary about a man’s will that was ignored and manipulated by people with power in government in order to make money for themselves. A lot of money. And they would have control over the most expensive art collection perhaps in the entire world. A collection that includes names like Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, and Van Gogh. What was once estimated to be worth $4 billion ended up being worth $25-$30 billion.
Albert C. Barnes was an inventor but became a visionary art collector. He had an eye for art and he was before his time. His collection consisted of modern and post-impressionist art, and Barnes’ collection was criticized at first. Practically mocked. But the joke was on them. Barnes used the art he collected as a learning tool. He created an educational institution in Merion, Pennsylvania. He did not like the city of Philadelphia and definitely despised the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Barnes never wanted his art to end up in Philadelphia. He made it very clear that the paintings were never to be removed from the walls of his institution. The public could not even come in to view the collection. You had to be a part of his school because he cared about education more than he did about art. He wanted to share it but wanted them to understand it as well. He wanted to keep his art and his school personal and educational. Even after he passed away, it was kept the way he wanted it for 50 years. However, greedy hands got into the cookie jar and tore it all apart.
Governors, Mayors, and some powerful charitable organizations began to plot against the Barnes Institution, and wanting to close it down in Merion and move it to downtown Philadelphia. The last place on Earth that Barnes wanted it to go. And as the documentary moves forward, you see all the key players in action and their problems with Albert Barnes and what he stood for. And as the battle of where Barnes’ art collection will live continued, the individuals that hold all of the power slowly start to ignore and dismiss the people who are protesting the move. Every step towards moving the art to Philadelphia, another part of Barnes’ will is being scratched out.
Director Don Argott really puts his documentary on a nice pace. It is definitely one-sided, but he makes his case crystal clear. The documentary brings up great points and shady dealings going on and countless manipulations. Argott makes the documentary feel like a thriller. A heist film. In reality, this is a heist. Possibly the largest and most crucial art heist of this century or perhaps ever. And it is entertaining and thrilling in a way that you would not expect a documentary like this would be.
The Art of the Steal says a lot about how this world works. Even if you have a will and are very specific about what you want done, in the end, it does not matter. If the government wants it then they will take it. By any means necessary, especially if it is worth $30 billion. There is a lot of lies and manipulation, and one way or another the art was coming to Philadelphia. People with power are willing to abuse it for the right price and the proof is in this documentary. Exactly what Barnes did not want to happen did. A deal was made from the very beginning and the ending is inevitable.
“Nature Boy” Brandon Vick is the resident film critic of the SoBros Network, and star of Brandon’s Box Office In Your Mouth. Follow him on Twitter@SirBrandonV and be sure to search #VicksFlicks for all of his latest movie reviews.