Last night I watched the most incredible documentary I think I’ve ever seen (maybe after The Cove, which I would not advise watching if you are prone to crying during mass animal slaughter), called The Art of the Steal, chronicling the outright bastardization of Albert C. Barnes‘ will and trust, and the moving of his private, intended-for-education, premier-in-the-world collection of Post-Impressionist and Modern art, by both “charitable” institutions and the city I live in, Philadelphia.
Up until last night, I could turn a blind eye to every negative thing someone said about my city. I was born here, I was raised here, I went to school and college in this city. I work here. I live here. I was proud of this city, despite it’s obvious flaws and shortcomings. I can live with flash mobs (not the fun, dance-y kind you see on commercials) and terrible infrastructure and even the accent that I seem to be immune to, but the systematic and calculated degradation of a man’s will and the planned theft of his collection for profit and tourism? Not something I can take lightly. I am downright ashamed of my city after watching this.
It reminds me of an unpublished Shakespearean sonnet: How can I invalidate your will? Let me count the ways!
I’m all for making art, especially great art like that in the Barnes collection (181 Reniors! Be still my heart!), more accessible to a broader group of people in an effort to enrich their lives and provide an unparalleled cultural experience. But if the person who owns the art wants to keep it as a school? You listen to the owner. Even after he dies.
Having been to his Foundation and the grounds he intended the collection to stay in, and also have grown up only 5 minutes from the new location, I think I can safely be completely enraged like I’ve never been enraged before. White People Problem #3 (after “The dry cleaners didn’t use starch!” and “There isn’t enough hot water for my bath!”) is: They are trying to mess with art! The “they” in this film is as varied as our former mayor, former governor, and a whole host of other baddies who should hope I never, ever meet them in a dark alley.
If you love art and/or have a conscience, you need to see this movie.