Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Art of the Steal: Documentary Review


The greatest theft ever committed.

“The Art of the Steal” is about not only the greatest art theft in the world, but probably the greatest crime ever committed. And at this point, let’s define “greatest”. In this sense, “great” means 2009

Directed by: Don Argott
comparatively large in size or number, unusual or considerable in power or intensity, and of an extreme or notable degree. It does not mean wonderful, first-rate, or good. This theft wasn’t even deemed a crime in the first place and was committed by mobsters, city of Philadelphia politicians, and educators.

The documentary follows the story chronologically. It starts with Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ educating himself about art and building an immense art collection. He’s a good guy. He wanted to appreciate art for art’s sake, not for its perceived value. He started the Barnes Foundation, complete with approximately $30 Billion dollars worth of art work by some of the world’s most eminent painters. And, yes, that’s Billion with a “B”. The legal articles of incorporation for the Barnes Foundation made it very clear that this was a private, educational institution. Art students were encouraged to sign-up for classes or a visit. The “fat cats” of Philadelphia were not.

The next part of the documentary was Barnes’ death in 1951. It makes you gasp if you think about what could happen to the Foundation if he didn’t adequately prepare for its life after his death. The story kept weaving its way through twist after twist and for somebody who is completely uneducated in art history, each point was more shocking than the one before.

The good news is that Barnes’ did adequately prepare the Foundation in the event of his death. He had a legal Will and Testament firmly in place. It was first left to his trusted friend, Violette de Mazia, and she did the best she could. Even in the event of her death, which happened in 1988, Barnes still had the legal ownership of the Foundation intact. The bad news is that greedy, manipulative people in power do not have to follow legal documents. To them the legal system is this little joke which they can just look down on and laugh at as they proceed to do the opposite of what was supposed to happen – legally and morally speaking that is.

“The Art of the Steal” is a great documentary because they even managed to get people like “educator” Richard Glanton, the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Mayor of Philadelpha, and a corrupt judge to speak in front of the camera admitting to what they did, in direct opposition to the law, completely nonchalant to their immoral actions. And the world just has to sit back and watch them commit the greatest crime ever.