The Art of the Steal
Sundance Film Festival
An exploration of one of the art world's most fascinating controversies and the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes' $25 billion private collection of modern and post-impressionist art.
In 1922, Dr. Albert C. Barnes created The Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion Pennsylvania, five miles outside of Philadelphia. He formed this remarkable collection of Post-Impressionist and early Modern art to serve as an educational institution. Dr. Barnes built his Foundation away from the city and cultural elite who scorned his collection as “horrible, debased art,” and set it on the grounds of his own home, an arboretum in the leafy suburbs.
Tastes changed, and soon the very people who belittled Barnes wanted access to his collection.
When Dr. Barnes died in a car accident in 1951, he left control of his collection to Lincoln University, a small African-American college. His will contained strict instructions, stating the Foundation shall always be an educational institution, and the paintings may never be removed. Such strict limitations made the collection safe from commercial exploitation.
But was it really safe? More than fifty years later, a powerful group of moneyed interests have gone to court to take the art – recently valued at more than $25 billion – and bring it to a new museum in Philadelphia. Standing in their way is a group of former students who are trying to block the move.
Will the students succeed, or will a man’s will be broken and one of America’s greatest cultural monuments be destroyed?