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The Art of the Steal

Whether or not you’re familiar with the world famous Barnes Collection, The Art of The Steal is a Must See documentary. Dr. Albert C. Barnes, an unfriendly chemist from Pennsylvania who made his fortune in the early 1900s from inventing a drug to treat gonorrhea, amassed a collection of late-19th- and early-20th-century art, estimated today to be valued at $25 billion. Barnes, a terribly cranky man, had no desire to hobnob with Philadelphia’s social elite, and even less of an interest in sharing with them his remarkable art collection. In 1922, amidst amassing over 100 Renoirs, 69 works by Cezanne, nearly 60 Picassos, and countless other masterpieces by Matisse, Van Gogh, Rousseau and Modigliani, he began displaying his acquisitions at a private foundation in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Barnes, who made it near to impossible to visit the collection, sought to keep his priceless works out of the hands of major museums and in a controlled environment with limited access to the public. Following his death in 1951, the collection was made increasingly available, and today, contrary to Dr. Barnes’ wishes, is housed in a new building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia. The Art of the Steal chronicles the contentious battle to combat Dr. Barnes’ written instructions for the fate of his estate, and move the foundation to the city, making the collection easily accessible to the public. While the film is a somewhat biased depiction of the events that transpired following Barnes’ death, it is without a doubt a Must See, if not for the art alone!

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