Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Never Steal anything small
The Art of the Steal, a 2009 documentary directed by Don Argott that I was fortunate to be able to see on Showtime on Demand over this past weekend. A wealth of interviews, photos, documents and archival footage is used to tell the story of how a cabal of politicians, culture mavens, billionaires, “charitable” institutions and well-intentioned insiders was able to plunder one of the most valuable art collections (valued at $25-30 billion) by disregarding a man’s last will and testament and moving his treasures to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to satisfy the insatiable need for a tourist attraction, or what one interviewee calls “culture as industry.” The cast of characters in the scandal includes Board of Trustees presidents Richard H. Glanton and Bernard C. Watson, Governor Ed Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor John Street, Attorney General Mike Fisher, Rebecca Rimmel (of the Pew Charitable Trust), Gerry Lenfest (of the Lenfest Foundation) and Leonore Annenberg, widow of Walter Annenberg…an art collector (though not anywhere near the caliber of Barnes) who, in one of those scenarios that proves irony can be quite ironic sometimes, stipulated the same terms as the luckless Barnes in the instructions set forth upon his demise.
“The name of the game is if you’re going to leave your paintings somewhere,” attorney Mark D. Schwartz remarks in the film, “don’t let there be a politician within 500 yards.” The Art of the Steal is a classic account of how the little guy gets screwed by the political and cultural elites, and it is essential viewing for fans of the documentary form. I highly recommend it.