Corruption. Greed. Contempt. Art. Many of us have been to a museum of some kind at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a small gallery, The Getty Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Louvre, most everyone –whether we liked the experience or not – have seen paintings, statues, and sculptures on display.
But at what point does art stop being art and start to become a commercial enterprise? When does the experience of enjoying art and culture become bastardized and destroyed? Easy: when politicians get involved.
Welcome to the tumultuous tale of The Barnes Foundation, a collection of some of the most important works of art ever assembled under one roof (valued at over $25 BILLION!). Never heard of it? Neither had I before this intriguing documentary, The Art of the Steal.
The Barnes Foundation is a school, a museum, and a non-commercial exhibition of art by masters like Van Gough, Matisse, and Renoir, and Cezanne located in a small township in Philadelphia. Owned by collector Albert C. Barnes, his mission was to help educate people about art in a setting that was devoid of commercialism and exploitation. He wanted those who came to The Barnes Foundation to have a truly emotional experience when it came to the art.
And then he died.
Let the mayhem begin. Suddenly, The Barnes Foundation became the topic of debate in the city council of Philadelphia. The wanted to move the collection to the museum district and make it into a commercial enterprise; exactly the opposite of Barnes’s wishes that he laid out in his will. The mayor, governor of the state, and others thumbed their noses at Barnes’s wishes and went ahead with a greedy plan to destroy what Barnes has created back in 1922.
A battle began. Those who had studied at the Barnes were outraged, but the current head of the Barnes Foundation seemed to have no interest in getting help to save the Barnes despite offers from donors and the township where it resided. People who wanted to save it were defamed, slandered, attacked. Those who wanted the Barnes Foundation’s collection moved were looked upon as greedy, corrupted, and evil.
And this isn’t over an immigration bill, health care, or financial reform; it’s all over art. It’s a compelling and very interesting story. As the documentary’s narrative expands and encompasses more and more perspectives on both sides you get the sense that both schools of thought have some valid points.
But only one has the interests of Mr. Barnes at heart. Just think of what could happen to your things after you pass on despite your final wishes. Would you want this type of political nonsense happening to your legacy?
A definite must-see for art lovers, The Art of the Steal just goes to prove that nothing is safe from politicization, no matter what the subject or object may be.
The Art of the Steal is available NOW on DVD!