Saturday, October 9, 2010

Review: The Art of the Steal (2010)

Don Argott's The Art of the Steal is a solid, instantly engrossing doc about the century-spanning legal battle over the most valuable and exclusive private art collection in the world, The Barns Collection in Merion, Pennsylvania. 

The film lays the groundwork very early on that Albert C. Barnes was contemptuous of the commercial art world and sought to keep his private collection (valued today at $25 billion) exclusive to students and artists and out of the hands of the city councils and profiteering trusts, including (and centered around) the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It's a long-winded, facts-driven story of slow, greedy political deception that takes almost a hundred years to finally set into motion and the film captures that gradual, underhanded disloyalty, if not expertly, than skillfully at the very least.

Its objectivity can certainly be called into question as the filmmakers and the interviewees soon begin to feel smugly superior in their narrow quest for exclusivity and anti-commercialism. Nevertheless, its depiction of political and legal deceit is startlingly potent and its portrait of public injustice difficult to dismiss. [B]

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