The Art of the Steal

Synopsis: Documentary that follows the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes' 25 billion dollar collection of modern and post-impressionist art.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Don Argott
Production: IFC Films
  1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
101 min

(feedback and reverb)

(soft dramatic music)

(Music continues)

Well, hello everybody.

This is a fabulous day

for Philadelphia,

and we have some wonderful news

for you,

and I am so proud

to present to you

the mayor of Philadelphia,

the mayor of arts and culture,

John Street.


- Thank you,

and good afternoon, everyone.

Now, let me see,

what kind of day am I having?


Um, actually it is a very,

very special moment

for all of us here

in the city of Philadelphia.

This has been--

this has been a journey,

and we're not

completely finished yet,

but let me tell you something.

It's one of those things

that will make our city special

for a long, long time.

You will not be able

to go to Houston

and see the Barnes Collection.

You won't be able

to go to Boston.

You won't be able

to go anywhere else.

If you want to see it,

you come to the city

of Philadelphia.

And so it is

with a great sense of pride

that we come here today

so that the Barnes Collection

can be moved from...

Lower Merion?

- Merion.

- From Merion...


I pause to tell you

that I was on a bike ride

not too long ago

and rode right past the place.

And I said,

"See you soon..."


In the city of Philadelphia

on the Benjamin Franklin


(frantic piano music)

- You know, this is a story

which should have been told

as it went along.

(tape cassette clicks)

- It is the greatest act

of cultural vandalism

since World War II.

(hard rock music)

- It's been a circus.

You know, he couldn't take

the paintings

up to heaven with him--

or hell

or wherever the heck

he wound up.

(Music continues)

- The name of the game is,

if you're gonna leave

your paintings somewhere,

don't let there be

a politician

within 500 yards.

(Music continues)

- It's America's treasure to be

untainted by these attacks.

(Music continues)

- Culture has become

big business.

Culture is an industry.

There's a culture industry

that requires new product.

(Music continues)

- This is about humanity,

but you can't put

dollar signs on that.

I mean, obviously,

you destroy something fragile

when you do that.

(Music continues)

- It's an example

of something that's happening

all across the society,

and this is just one

nice little microcosm

that we can look at carefully.

(Music continues)

- No one knows this story.

This is a hidden story,

and it's a big, big scandal.

(Music continues)

This is the scandal of

the art world in modern America.

(Music continues)

(cassette clicks and whirs)

- The Barnes is one of the Iast

great personal collections

in the United States.

The fight now

is over how closely

the foundation

Barnes established

should follow Barnes's wishes.

Here were Modern paintings

so important

that they were the envy

of virtually every art museum

in the world.

(birds chirping)

- This is the treasure trove

of, uh,

the Modern art of America

and of the world.

And this is the best of the best

of the best.

- When you go through

the Barnes Collection,

it is jaw-dropping.

Your mouth falls open.

You can't believe

you're seeing this.

And then you go

in another room,

and it's more and more

and more and more.

It's just incredible.

- I had an art handler there,

and the first time she picked up

the Van Gogh Postman to move it,

she walked about three feet,

she put the painting back down

very carefully,

and she sat on a bench,

and she cried.

- They've got more Cezannes

than the entire city--

than are in the entire city

of Paris.

There's 181 Renoirs,

wall to wall.

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Jonathan Sobol

Jonathan Sobol is a Canadian film director and screenwriter. His credits include the films Citizen Duane, A Beginner's Guide to Endings and The Art of the Steal.Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Sobol is currently based in Toronto. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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