The Art of the Steal
Have you heard about that protracted, politically porky legal battle over moving a dead millionaire’s priceless private early modern art collection from a wealthy Philadelphia suburb into a downtown tourist mecca? No, not just any dead millionaire, but Albert C. Barnes, whose will specified his axe should be ground against the presumed philistinism of Philadelphia’s power elite in perpetuity. That hasn’t happened, and Barnes’ acolytes are pissed, so one of them hired Don Argott to make lopsided leaflet of a documentary about it. If only Argott had the courage of a little critical distance. What a field day he could have with such readymade characters as the aforementioned acolytes, the contentious lawyers, the priggish dewlapped art dealers, the slickly litigious political strivers, and the camera-wielding busybody NIMBYs who suddenly go mum when the thing actually might no longer be in their back yard. One justification for this being a film and not a long-form magazine article is the chance to really view the art, but no such luck: Argott’s too busy with the awkward problem of making a case against more people having more access to a trove of masterpieces. He can’t seem to see how his attempt to curry anti-establishment favor actually endorses elitism. His film is vain, unbalanced, illogical, overstated and damn compelling.