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Arty Farty Friday: The Art of the Steal

During the summer I spent a lot of time learning more about art.

Apart from reading and watching stuff connected to artists and their works, I also delve into the functioning of the art work, museums, forgery and such.

One of the patterns you see repeated is how museums will do anything to get their hands on a valuable collection.

An owner works sought after by museums promise to keep the collection together, never sell off individual pieces, to display them together in their own separate wing etc.

The museum holds up their part of the bargain… till a better collection comes their way, but by then no one really cares about the benefactors wishes and all contracts and promises are broken.

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I encourage you to check out Rogues’ Gallery: The Secret Story of the Lust, Lies, Greed, and Betrayals That Made the Metropolitan Museum of Art written by Michael Gross.

It’s a fascinating read about how one of the most influential museums was founded, but also takes a peek behind the glamour to reveal secrets that I bet the MET would want kept in the shadows.

Gross sums up what he learned when he was researching and writing about the MET:

“Behind almost every painting is a fortune and behind that a sin or a crime.”

Before you start thinking that only the MET has shady practises, think again.

The 2009 documentary The Art of the Steal follows the story of  The Barnes Foundation, a $25-billion collection(conservative estimate) of mostly Modernist and post-Impressionist artworks.

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It is the most valuable collection of art from the period ever to be accumulated by one man and includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos, and 14 Modiglianis.

The collection, created by Dr Albert C. Barnes, operated its gallery in a residential neighbourhood with restrictions on access, in Merion, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia.

The main aim of The Barnes Foundation was to be a school for artists and the artwork was supposed to inspire students and serve as teaching tools.

Barnes loathed the establishment at the time and was adamant that his art collection would never be taken over by Philadelphia’s art museums.

As long as Barnes was alive, the foundation could function in the capacity he had intended, but on his death there was a  mad dash to acquire the collection by any means necessary.

Dr Barnes was so adamant that the art establishment wouldn’t get their hands on his beloved art works that he drew up a seemingly iron-clad will that would protect the foundation.

What happens next defies belief and is a painful reminder that where there’s a will (in this case Dr Barnes’ last will and testament), there’s nevertheless a way to break it with just enough money, power and politics.

This story is particularly painful because the theft of paintings from the Barnes Foundation happened in broad daylight and was engineered by the powers that be.

This documentary is a must-see!

The YT link is inactive but you can watch it on Vimeo HERE

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