Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Art of the steal

“The Art of the Steal.”
I read this
By Constance Rosenblum
of The New York Times

BARNES, the museum of late-19th-
and early-20th-century art
tucked away in the suburbs

Let me tell you after realizing
what the $ can do in court a
WILL is not safe.

His art work was valued at $ 25 BILLION
This is a true story, and the same
Judge and people could do it to you.
All your wishes up in smoke.

Albert C. Barnes, founder of the Barnes

Foundation in Merion, Pa.

A 37-year-old documentary filmmaker,

Mr. Argott attended the Art Institute of
Philadelphia and has lived in the city for
13 years, he didn’t understand the passion
that surrounded this highly peculiar
Barnes Foundation, the subject
of his latest film, “The Art of the Steal.”
“Certain people have deep feelings

about the Barnes,” Mr. Argott said the other day
over tea at the
Morgan Library & Museum
in New York, his long curly hair and
dark glasses noticeable among the suits
populating the cafe. “I didn’t understand.
I’d never been there.”That feeling evaporated
the moment he set foot in the galleries
that housed the Barnes collection,
a trove that included 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes,
59 Matisses and 46 Picassos, along with countless
other items of visual art, ranging from metalwork
to Medieval manuscripts to African sculpture.
“I was overwhelmed,” Mr. Argott admitted.

“For one thing, I hadn’t had any idea how
big the place was. I almost welled up.
I’m not sure why. I just suddenly
understood how special it was.”
The museum came to Mr. Argott’s attention

through a former Barnes student
named Lenny Feinberg — “real estate
investor, mountaineer and wine drinker”
as the film’s program notes describe him.
Mr. Feinberg was the driving force and
financial angel behind “The Art of the Steal,”

The eroding of clause after clause of Barnes’s will.
We were trying to tell a compelling story,

using all the tools at our disposal,”
Mr. Argott said. “We didn’t want to make
a boring talking-heads documentary.
We wanted to make a work that would
resonate with audiences, and these are the
kinds of works that do.”
And the emphasis on the will, a leitmotif

of the film? “We’re trying to be storytellers,
telling the story through characters,”
Mr. Argott said. “Whether or not you agree
with the will, it represents Barnes’s point of view,
and it’s our script for how he thought.”
Predictably, the film provoked what an

arts blog described as “big fireworks”
when it was shown last fall at the
New York Film Festival.
“Such a lively debate,” Mr. Argott said

happily, describing the question-and-answer
session that followed the screening. “People
were yelling, screaming at each other.
These issues bring out these emotions.
I’m not sure why. But for some reason
the Barnes stirs something up in people.”
“Barnes’s opinions about art were dogmatic,

and the acolytes he attracted were equally
and possibly more rigid,” said Maggie Lidz,
the estate historian at the Winterthur Museum
near Wilmington, Del., another institution
whose collection was amassed in
the early 20th century.
“Anyone trying to understand the history

of the Barnes institution is presented
with opposing and irreconcilable viewpoints,
” Ms. Lidz added. “Everyone seems to insist
that their stance is the only moral one.
But the problems that beset the Barnes have
never been black and white.
Polarization is as much a part of
Barnes’s legacy as the paintings.”
Some members of the museum world

who have seen the film have also taken
sharp issue with many of M
r. Argott’s conclusions and with the style in which they are presented.
“The film obviously had a message that didn’t reflect the complexities of the issues,” said Linda Eaton, director of collections at Winterthur. “Even if you agree with their conclusions, that the Barnes should stay where it is, this work is a polemic that’s structured to get people riled up, to get them excited and angry.”
“There are valid arguments to be made for moving the collection to a place where more people can see it,” Ms. Eaton added. “And as for the question of whether Barnes’s will should be broken, is a will necessarily the most sacred document in the world?
“Changing the will is a legal issue. But changing the institution is a very different issue. Institutions can’t become fossils if they want to survive.”
And the reaction of the Barnes?
“The film was full of unsubstantiated allegations and very one-sided,” said Derek Gillman, the foundation’s president and executive director, who saw “The Art of the Steal” in Toronto. “It was made by people who were hostile to the move and very angry about it. That’s why we didn’t cooperate with the filmmakers. It was not in our interests to do so.”

Now take some time and see this film
if you love art and the legal system.
It scared me and made me so mad.

Posted by Yvonne @ La Petite Gallery
Comments are welcome
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