The Art Of The Steal

Critics Consensus

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.



Total Count: 60


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,410
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Movie Info

Follows the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes' 25 billion dollar collection of modern and post- impressionist art.

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Critic Reviews for The Art Of The Steal

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (22)

Audience Reviews for The Art Of The Steal

  • Jan 27, 2014
    Well done and very informative documentary about the Barnes Foundation. The filmmakers are one-sided in their approach and seem blind to the hypocrisy of their their thesis but they have nevertheless made a compelling narrative.
    Christian C Super Reviewer
  • Dec 08, 2013
    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
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer
  • May 02, 2013
    A perfect example of an overly biased documentary. Although he decision to move the Barnes collection was against the wishes of Barnes, the appreciation of the Barnes work is spread more broadly with its move into Philadelphia.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Jun 11, 2011
    "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.
    Walter M Super Reviewer

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