The Art of the Steal

Albert C. Barnes was born in 1872 to working-class parents in Phila- delphia. An avid student, he accumulated degrees and became an MD by the early age of 20. He also studied pharmacy and chemistry at the University of Berlin and made important connections with individuals in Germany.

Using his education and those friendships, he collaborated in the development of a compound that quickly made him a millionaire. Being somewhat of a Renaissance man, he studied educational concepts, art, philosophy, and psychology. He began testing his theories on his employees by exposing them to art appreciation discussions and displaying art in the buildings for their benefit. To those ends, he purchased twelve acres outside Philadelphia and established the Barnes Foundation in 1922.

Now that you have that background, you can skim through the first of the DVD and get to the heart of the matter: Barnes had an unerring eye for modern art. He made many, many trips to Europe and his collection grew steadily. He generously offered to loan a few pieces to the Art Museum in Philadelphia and was soundly ridiculed for his worthless art.

From then on, his collection was displayed in a specially designed and built facility on Foundation grounds. As modern art became accepted in society, his collection gained stature but he continued his humanitarian acts. He founded (and funded) a school for African-American students, he continued to travel extensively and he collected additional art. His wife Laura established the Arboretum School for the study of horticulture, botany and landscaping.

By the time he died, the Philadelphia Art Museum, demonstrating a complete change of heart, was lusting after his collection, now valued at $25 billion! The terms of his will clearly prohibit any of his art ever to leave Foundation property and most particularly to be loaned to his old nemesis, the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Herein lies the tale... Remember the title of this film! This story is interesting, funny, sad, infuriating, and frustrating. There are excellent interviews sprinkled around in this documentary, along with newspaper headlines, numerous photographs and commentaries, insight into a long-standing grudge match and the ineptitude of well-meaning people. Of course, the City of Philadelphia has its own view of the matter....

You will end up much wiser than you started.
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