Money, power, race, a mansion stuffed with treasure, a city plagued by scandal — about all that’s missing from “The Art of the Steal”, a hard-hitting documentary about a high-cultural brawl, is a hot woman with a warm gun…

So begins Manohla Dargis’s New York Times review of The Art of the Steal which is showing at the Landmark Theatres on Shattuck.

The movie tells the story of The Barnes Foundation in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. In 1922 Dr. Albert C. Barnes created the foundation for his astounding collection of post-impressionist and early modern art, which included 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis and seven Van Goghs.

Dr. Barnes deliberately built his foundation away from the city and cultural elite who scorned his collection as “horrible, debased art”. But tastes changed, and soon the very people who belittled Barnes wanted access to his collection. When Barnes died in 1951, he left control of his collection to Lincoln University, a small African-American college, with strict instructions that the paintings may never be removed.

More than fifty years later, a powerful group of moneyed interests have gone to court in a rancorous, Machiavellian attempt to take the art — recently valued at more than $25 billion — and move it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Find movie screening times here.

Update: Reader Nancy Friedman, who tipped us off about this movie, reports that there is a Berkeley connection too. In 2006, the Aurora Theater Company put on a production of “Permanent Collection”, a play inspired by the  controversies surrounding The Barnes Foundation. Read more here.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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