The Art of the Steal is an arresting documentary that covers the controversy on how the Barnes Foundation has evolved from an educational art facility in the suburbs to a major museum of urban art. The documentary touches on several basic issues, including the legal execution of…
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The Barnes Foundation was formed in Merion, PA as an educational facility by Barnes and John Dewey, an educational philosopher. However, unlike majority of art collections, this was neither a public museum nor a private museum and was primarily used to teach adult and youth students. While the foundation allowed public visitors at least twice a week, these were treated as second-class citizens in comparison to students. Barnes’ vision for the entire collection was contained in his will, which stated that the art could not be loaned, reproduced, sold, or travelled and that the school was to continue (Kennicott 1). However, leaders in Philadelphia clamored for the collection to be made more accessible by moving it to the city, which was finally achieved by Pew Charitable Trusts, Annenberg Foundation, and Lenfest Foundation.
The documentary identifies various ways in which Barnes’ will has been subverted, as well as the development of a highly public and new home for Barnes’ collection, which the film states Barnes sought to avoid and despised. In successfully challenging the will of Mr. Barnes and its original intent, Pew Charitable Trusts, Annenberg Foundation, and Lenfest Foundation used two basic arguments. First, they argued that the Barnes Foundation was financially struggling and that a move to a venue that was more accessible in Philadelphia would help in dramatically increasing attendance, bolstering the Foundation’s finances (Steinberg 1). Secondly, they also argued that the collection was an incredible artifact of culture that should be accessed by more people. In this case, they posited that demand exceeded availability in Merion for public hours, as well as the fact that demand was a valid concern for the public that the foundations found necessary to address (Steinberg 1). However, these arguments do not stand under close scrutiny as will be seen.
One of the strangest things
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