Must See - IFC Films' THE ART OF THE STEAL -
"'The Art of the Steal' is a documentary that chronicles the long and dramatic struggle for control of the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art valued at more than $25 billion." Actually, it's $25-$35 billion. The value is really incalculable. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was a Philadelphian of working-class origins who used his fortune from an antiseptic compound called Argyrol to collect: 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses (including his commissioned, unique, Art of the Dance murals), 46 Picassos, 21 Soutines, 18 Rousseaus, 16 Modiglianis, 11 Degas, 7 Van Goghs, 6 Seurats, 4 Manets and 4 Monets. And these are quality, not just quantity: they include some of the named artists' best works. For Renoir, Cezanne, and Matisse, this collection is unique, and there may be no other private collection of such work of this magnitude.
Barnes was a great collector. He was also famously cranky and opinionated. He deeply and lastingly resented the fat cats of the city of Philadelphia who mocked the work in his collection when it was first shown. He chose to keep the collection away from those Philadelphian fat cats. A friend of the philosopher and educational theorist John Dewey, he built a museum in Merion, Pennsylvania (five miles from Philadelphia) on his own land, a 12-acre Arboretum, and restricted visits, running the Foundation as a teaching institution, which was his main focus in life from the Twenties till his death in a car accident in 1951. The collection was displayed as in a house, arranged with furniture and decorations, in aesthetically pleasing (if rather overly-symmetrical) groupings, rather than in the contemporary museum's open space, white wall style.
Barnes' will specified that the collection must never be loaned out or sold. His will put Lincoln University, a small black college, in charge of the collection after his death.
For a long time the Foundation was run by a close follower of the Barnes spirit, Violette de Mazia. But after she died in 1988, gradually, and recently quite rapidly, the will has been abrogated, the trust broken. In the Nineties, an ambitious man named Richard H. Glanton, who was then in charge loaned the collection to various major venues, including the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and ending, ironically, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ostensibly to raise money. More recently a powerful nexus of politicians (the governor and the mayor of Philadelphia), the Annenbergs, the Philidelphia Museum, and rich charitable organizations, mainly the Pew Foundation, have worked not only to get control away from Lincoln University but to move the whole collection to a new building in the city of Philadelphia, where Barnes emphatically did not want his collection to be.
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