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The Art of the Steal

film_ARTOFTHESTEALIts detractors call it "The scandal of the art world in modern America." The private art collection of Albert C. Barnes, "the single most important cultural artifact in America of the first half of the 20th Century," and how it was hijacked by an unholy alliance of museums, politicians, and custodians determined to exploit its marvels for profit, is the story told in The Art Of The Steal, a compelling, infuriating documentary from filmmaker Don Argott that sets up a classic case of corporate greed vs. legal and artistic integrity. The working-class son of a Philadelphia butcher, Barnes made a fortune with an antiseptic compound around the turn of the last century.

A self-taught art lover, he traveled in Paris and bought a staggering array of Impressionist paintings by Cezanne, Seurat, Picasso and Van Gogh—to name but a few. Contemporary estimates value the collection at $25 to $35 billion. As one member of the Barnes Foundation board of trustees puts it, "You’d need some kind of a nation to buy it." In 1923, he held a public showing of his collection in Philadelphia, where the work was denounced by provincial critics. Barnes called Philadelphia "an intellectual slum," and removed his collection to his private residence in suburban Merion, granting access only to art lovers and students, not tourists or the general public. Barnes had a curator's eye, displaying his paintings on honey-colored walls, grouped according to aesthetics, not chronology. Renoirs, Matisses and film_art_of_the_stealModiglianis hung cheek-by-jowl with Barnes' collection of sculptural antique hinges and African masks, making no distinction between "high" and "low" art, or art and craft. But Barnes died suddenly in 1951. The terms of his trust specified the collection was never to be sold, moved out of Merion, or delivered into the greasy palms of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Barnes willed administration of the Foundation to a small black college, Lincoln University, upon the death of his own successor). But Argott's film details how the local art establishment, city and state politicians, charitable trusts, and a few opportunistic stewards along the way, set out on a 30-year campaign to circumvent those terms. A harrowing look at the depths to which profiteers will sink in the name of the public good, and a fascinating portrait of a truly eccentric player in 20th Century modern art. (Not rated) 101 minutes. (★★★) LJ

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Monday, Feb. 8, is Aquarius new moon (19 degrees) and Chinese New Year of the Red Fire Monkey (an imaginative, intelligent and vigilant creature). Monkey is bright, quick, lively, quite naughty, clever, inquiring, sensible, and reliable. Monkey loves to help others. Often they are teachers, writers and linguists. They are very talented, like renaissance people. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in the year of Monkey. Monkey contains metal (relation to gold) and water (wisdom, danger). 2016 will be a year of finances. For a return on one’s money, invest in monkey’s ideas. Metal is related to wind (change). Therefore events in 2016 will change very quickly. We must ponder with care before making financial, business and relationship changes. Fortune’s path may not be smooth in 2016. Finances and business as usual will be challenged. Although we develop practical goals, the outcomes are different than hoped for. We must be cautious with investments and business partnership. It is most important to cultivate a balanced and harmonious daily life, seeking ways to release tension, pressure and stress to improve health and calmness. Monkey is lively, flexible, quick-witted, and versatile. Their gentle, honest, enchanting yet resourceful nature results often in everlasting love. Monkeys are freedom loving. Without freedom, Monkey becomes dull, sad and very unhappy. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), the Chinese official title of Marquis (noble person) was pronounced ‘Hou,’ the same as the pronunciation of ‘monkey’ in Chinese. Monkey was thereby bestowed with auspicious (favorable, fortunate) meaning. Monkey years are: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016.  

 

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