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The Art Of The Steal (2009)



Average Rating: 7.2/10
Reviews Counted: 59
Fresh: 50 | Rotten: 9

Deeply esoteric and unapologetically one-sided, The Art of the Steal proves a documentary doesn't have to make an objective argument as long as it argues well.


Average Rating: 6.8/10
Critic Reviews: 22
Fresh: 16 | Rotten: 6

Deeply esoteric and unapologetically one-sided, The Art of the Steal proves a documentary doesn't have to make an objective argument as long as it argues well.



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Movie Info

Born into a working-class family in Philadelphia, Albert C. Barnes was a man who through hard work and determination became a doctor and medical researcher, founding a successful pharmaceutical firm that made him a multimillionaire. As his fortune grew, Barnes developed a taste for art and in time assembled one of the world's most remarkable private collections, featuring original paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Cézanne, and many other important artists. Barnes relied on his own


Musical & Performing Arts, Documentary

Jul 27, 2010


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All Critics (59) | Top Critics (22) | Fresh (50) | Rotten (9) | DVD (2)

Argott beautifully explicates how this crew pulled off the most daring daylight art theft in history, though his passionate identification with the pro-Barnes faction limits the movie's political nuance.

January 3, 2011 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film's good versus bad scenario is, while understandable, too simplistic.

April 16, 2010 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Art of the Steal ultimately gets mired in the legal weeds, a snare made all the more frustrating by the fact that the move is a fait accompli.

March 26, 2010 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's impossible not to be moved by the almost eerie film footage of the walls of the Barnes' original home with the art removed, revealing bare hooks and patches of unfaded paint: ghosts, doomed to wander.

March 25, 2010 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
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A blunt, persuasive documentary.

March 19, 2010 Full Review Source: Denver Post
Denver Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

I found it fascinating for a number of reasons, balanced reporting not among them.

March 19, 2010 Full Review Source: Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A fascinating good guy vs. bad guy art film about the big business of culture, that puts it on the same footing as big corporations.

June 8, 2013 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

No matter what side you end up taking, you still might be tempted to call your lawyer to go over your will just one more time.

August 11, 2010 Full Review Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego Union-Tribune

The Art of the Steal paints only in black and white.

August 1, 2010 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

A tragic, true tale exposing America's ugly, two-tiered system of justice defined by the color line.

July 23, 2010 Full Review Source: Sly Fox
Sly Fox

Its lack of objectivity doesn't hurt the film as a piece of entertainment, although it does seem to weaken its own argument a little.

May 14, 2010 Full Review Source: Capital Times (Madison, WI)
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Don Argott's new documentary makes some of the most outlandish conspiracy theories seem strangely believable.

May 10, 2010 Full Review Source:

...A highly partisan and energetic documentary

May 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A terrifically convoluted yarn with dozens of major players.

May 7, 2010 Full Review Source: Kansas City Star
Kansas City Star

There's a nagging, one-sided feel to this unapologetic bit of activist filmmaking, but that doesn't make the story any less compellilng, or the film any less enraging.

April 22, 2010 Full Review Source: Times-Picayune

Barnes might be only one man, but The Art of the Steal shows exactly what happens when politicians become too hungry with power and heavily infringe upon our private lives. Now I guess I can see why the Tea Party is all up in arms.

April 16, 2010 Full Review Source: Watertown Daily Times
Watertown Daily Times

A model of documentary filmmaking and activist cinematic journalism: unfailingly entertaining, expertly constructed and undeniably -- perhaps justifiably -- biased.

April 16, 2010 Full Review Source: Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)

While The Art of the Steal makes a very convincing -- even bone-chilling -- argument... the film fails to even ponder why easier access to some of the world's greatest art treasures might not be an entirely bad thing.

April 16, 2010 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Controversial and suspenseful, it evolves like a crime thriller as a collector's legally documented wishes are corrupted by the vulgarity of commerce.

April 14, 2010 Full Review Source: SSG Syndicate
SSG Syndicate

That tens of thousands of years of human and cultural progress could manifest itself in a single human being... and be obliterated in less than a half-century by commoditization to the advantage of public and private power-brokers is the great tragedy.

April 3, 2010 Full Review Source:

It is a pretty informative documentary and, as such, it's sure to get at least a few devoted art lovers' blood boiling.

March 25, 2010 Full Review Source: Deseret News, Salt Lake City
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

Audience Reviews for The Art Of The Steal

Documentary on the political infighting in the struggle to control the Barnes Foundation, a charitable trust that owns post-Impressionist masterpieces worth billions of dollars. Surprisingly interesting (if one sided) tale of love of money triumphing over the love of art; how many movies will you ever see where the Pew Charitable Trust and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are the bad guys?
May 18, 2010
Greg S

Super Reviewer

"The Art of the Steal" is a documentary about the history of the Barnes Foundation, a philanthropic and educational institution created by Dr. Arthur Barnes in 1922 in suburban Philadelphia to house his collection of impressionist art, valued currently somewhere in the billions. The film's focus is on the fight to move the foundation to Philadelphia and I do concede that this violation of Barnes' will could be considered a travesty. However, the documentary allows for no such subtle shadings; you are either with the Friends of the Foundation or you are greedy and pure evil.

On the one hand, you have Dr. Barnes who is venerated(his successor is deemed a disciple, not a protege) and his followers, who once sat at his knee to listen to him dispense knowledge to those wise enough to seek it and now dictate taste and come off as intellectual snobs.(Shouting 'philistines!' at a protest is not going to win you any friends.) And then there is Walter Annenberg, the devil incarnate, publishing magnate and all that is wrong with Philadelphia society, apparently plotting his revenge against Barnes for decades for taking his collection to the suburbs of which the move is the final result.(Being photographed with Nixon does not necessarily make one evil, even though it could do severe damage to one's karma.) But Philadelphia of 1922 is not the same city it is today, with the clearest sign of that being an African-American mayor. Nor did the documentary get me to rethink my support of museums. Yes, the wealthy patronize them but they also allow the average citizen to see classic art found nowhere else and I fondly recall an exhibit of British Museum treasures in Victoria, BC a couple of years ago.
June 11, 2011
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Wicked documentary that traces a beurocratic takeover of an artistic institution with enough twists and turns to maks SHUTTER ISLAND look like ROMPER ROOM (not that it doesn't already...). It's a case of "this story musta rocked the artworld, but I never heard about it" that leads to "damn, now I have to tell everybody about this story!" So I'm telling you. It's called THE ART OF STEAL and for bargain shoppers it's even available on demand.. Just sayin'...
February 27, 2010
Jeff Talbott

Super Reviewer

Compelling, informative, tragic, and undeniably entertaining (often unintentionally), Art of The Steal is an excellent documentary. The film examines the Barnes Foundation, named after Albert C. Barnes who, for many years, housed countless masterpieces of art (valued in tens of billions) in one building. The building, dedicated to be a purely educational institution, was awash in non-conformity in both presentation and execution, angering the establishment of his day.

The film documents the undermining of Barnes and his will, who laid out explicit instructions on the operation of his collection, as well as his intentions. We are introduced to a number of characters who, in their own way, seek to undermine this purpose. In many cases we hear them firsthand, other times we are introduced to their machinations by others. Taken literally, the film is about civil procedure, but at its heart, it's a film about greed and opportunism. The director, Don Argott, does a masterful job in presenting his case, and building tension. The legal subtleties of such a story are not necessarily interesting to most, yet Argott makes it positively cinematic, treating his subject with passion and skill.

In the end, it's a powerful indictment against supposed non-profit foundations, and the politicians who seek to capitalize for personal gain at every opportunity, with the Barnes collection marking a surprising intersection of all these interests.

4/5 Stars
December 8, 2013
Jeffrey Meyers

Super Reviewer

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