Thursday, February 25, 2010

More "Art of the Steal" Reviews

The New York Times:

"As its title suggests, 'The Art of the Steal' is nothing if not agenda-driven, having been paid for by a former foundation student, Lenny Feinberg, who — to quote the movie’s notes — 'initiated, funded and was intimately involved in the making of The Art of the Steal.’ . . . But while its bias enlivens the movie ... it eventually also weakens it. . . . That’s too bad because surely there are more nuanced arguments for the move than those found here, which could only strengthen the documentary, saving it from caricature. At times the fight comes across as a smackdown between art snobs who want to preserve Barnes’s right to exhibit his masterworks however he wanted because, well, he paid for them (a curiously underexamined refrain), and vulgarians who want to turn his patrimony into tourist bait .... What remains unanswered, finally, is the larger question of whether deep pockets ensure custodial rights forever."

The Philadelphia Inquirer

"[A]s a narrative of the facts, it is as one-sided as a plaintiff's brief. Argott simplifies the institution's convoluted, colorful history into stark black and white, smearing villains and cheering heroes. . . . The bad guys are a shadowy 'cabal' of Philadelphia foundations ... conspiring to break Barnes' will and abduct his babies in order to exploit them purely for touristic purposes. The good guys are the Friends of the Barnes, a group that seeks to preserve the collector's babies as he intended, in the villa especially built for them. One would not know from the movie that the so-called bad guys' plan would keep the foundation's holdings intact, maintain its educational mission, and bring Barnes' underknown collection to a greater number of people. . . .

"[T]he second time Drexel professor Robert Zaller, a Friend of the Barnes, is heard insisting that the proposed move downtown is 'the greatest act of cultural vandalism since World War II,' you think: Really? Then the hard question emerges, not from the screen, but in the viewer's mind: Does moving this chronically underfunded collection from its suburban enclave, where there is limited visitor access, to an urban center where it will have a solid endowment and greater public access, constitute vandalism? This viewer answers no: not vandalism. Pragmatism, perhaps, but not vandalism. Rather than tell the whole story of how the Barnes move came about - a Dickensian saga of bad financial planning, worse management, endless lawsuits, and meddling NIMBYs - Argott's talking heads spin a unified conspiracy theory of how Philadelphia money and institutions always had it in for Barnes."