Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"The Art of the Steal" (Documentary) (2010) - Movie Review

One’s Will is the wishful thinking of wishes within his or her bounds with the legality binding it. It holds immense value starting from the best plot twisters in nutty and cheesy films to the real life scenarios. I have never seen any one question it because it is the last sign of respect to the dead or rather they are not there to argue about it. Albert C. Barnes made his with clear indication of what needs to be done with this billions of dollar worth arts in his private art mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia. What became of it is “The Art of the Steal”.

After the art exploration and manipulation dealt in the street art arena in “Exit through the Gift Shop”, this is another piece of documentary questioning the value attached to the priceless master works. But beyond the beauty, poetry and the experience of these arts Albert C. Barnes immaculately preserved and cherished, the film talks rather rudimentary principles, one’s right towards their property. Here the promotion of greater good and the expansion of the secret treasure of arts were used to hijack these to the city center.

I for one cannot dictate the standard or definition of a painting. Some possess those appreciation like I do for films and I can relate to it. The experience of certain piece around an atmosphere makes all the difference. In a multiplex ruled world I have subconsciously forgotten the rarity of the presence a building could make. Yet I could see clearly the theatres I grew up watching films in. Now I complain when Ebert’s film festival happens in Virginia historical theatre with blocking views. I have been comforted and while I choose the astonishing screen presence of the current multiplex, I still respect and admire the beauty of those old theatres. Barnes’ art mansion is like those theatres and he desperately wanted that to be that way for all his arts for eternity.

Albert C. Barnes from the video footage and the commentary that accompanies it comes off as a strict, terse and a strong man. Adamant and stubborn, it is his way or no way at all. His way was to safe guard the sanctity of the art he possessed and wanted the people to cherish it the way he wanted it to be. I can see how he pissed off people including his near and dear ones. The film is not so much about that side of his character rather his pure sense of love towards the art he possessed. Also his demand of enjoying it the right way.

As Barnes angers the people in Philadelphia and around, he knew that the legacy he is hoping to create after his demise might be affected a great deal. He knew it being a big time capitalist himself. He planned his will and laid strong terms such as no way to sell or move or any kind of sort of his art properties. When you write something like that it is supposed to be iron clad in the eyes of law. You would think so. After his death in 1951, things were in place with an able successor but the eventuality was merely postponed.

“The Art of the Steal” of course argues for keeping this invaluable arts at its long living place. It of course goes all in for supporting that and taking the view of Barnes himself against the establishment. I was constantly divided in the reasoning of moving or not moving these arts. On one hand it is Barnes’ wish to keep his property within his walls and not spoil the experience by making it an exhibition which is considered selling out for him and the purist art world. On the other hand it is an international treasure which has been put in confined spaces and not at the easy access for the public and comes off as selfish and closed minded. This vacillation of the opinion despite the movie’s lack of objectivity resonated strongly in me. The people of the establishment genuinely believed in bringing the art to a much wider audience and for the greater good of the city. I can completely see that. As a public reading news about this I would not hesitate to take their side. Yet what the film offers is the fundamentals of human existence which is to respect the properties of one even after their demise. Especially after their demise.

Directed by Don Argott, as any good documentary, the film has a clear set of agenda and provides it in a convincing chapter format. It helps as an audience to follow through the time and genuinely understand the politics behind the acquisition in the name of art. Beyond art it is about one man’s wish being dragged in the dirty game of politics and in the end concludes so tragically in the eyes of this film’s makers.

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