Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Distributor: IFC
Release Date: February 26, 2010
Genre: Documentary
Running Time: 101 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated

If no one sees art and recognizes its greatness, can it truly be considered as great? If the Mona Lisa wasn’t available for mass consumption, would it still be recognized as one of the finest paintings ever created? Should art be produced for everyone to see, or only for those who will truly appreciate it?

This argument is at the heart of director Don Argott’s “The Art of the Steal,” a fascinating documentary that plays out like a mystery heist thriller, except that this grand theft actually happened. The film follows the life of the Barnes Collection, one of the greatest collections of art anyone ever assembled, having been valued at upwards of $25 billion.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes collected numerous paintings by masters like van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, and more. Rather than sell them to a museum or display them publically, Barnes decided to set up shop in Merion, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. He wanted the collection to be seen by art students as a way to educate them, and by those who would truly appreciate it. This angered the bigwigs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who saw that there was profit to be had and they wanted a piece of the pie.

“Steal” is a taut documentary and a marked improvement over Argott’s solid first outing, 2005’s “Rock School.” Argott does a fantastic job selling the importance and impressiveness of the Barnes Foundation; for someone like me who knew nothing about it other than knowing the name meant something I must say it was educational.

The movie really gets horrifying after Barnes passes away in 1951. Even with what he thought was an iron clad will, the vultures circled and wanted to get their hands on some of that Barnes Money. Through various machinations dripping with questionable at best ethics, the Barnes Will was dismantled piece by piece until his beloved collection was being publically displayed for profit, something he stated over and over again that never wanted.

This film works as both a thriller and a tragedy, and manages to show human beings at their greedy worst.

Theater: The Ruth Sokolof Theater, Omaha, NE
Time: 130 pm
Date: May 22, 2010

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