Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Art of the Steal

Don Argott's The Art of the Steal, revolving around the world-class Barnes Foundation and its art collection, highlights powerful arguments about the place of art in society. Literally -- placement, preservation, ownership, access and original intent. Compelling and fascinating, this documentary evokes the conflicts and struggles over the Barnes Foundation's "assets" -- now "worth" approximately twenty-five billion U.S. dollars.

Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), a sort of Great Gatsby-like figure but also a  Working Class Hero well ahead of his time, created the Barnes Foundation in 1922 as an educational institution more than as an art museum. Before a consensus was reached in the art world of the value of his collection (actually it was scoffed at in the 1920s), Barnes had snapped up dozens of key works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso,  "Le Douanier" Rousseau and Van Gogh -- just to name some of the big guns.

Barnes' will clearly specificied that his foundation remain in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, outside the "establishment" zone of the city itself. 

In the 1990s, a movement managed by "charitible trusts" and politicians took shape that would see the Foundation's relocation to along the Benjamin Parkway in Philly proper, on a tract sandwiched between the Rodin Museum and the Free Library, within walking distance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Despite the ensuing power struggle (the movement has been contested by many counter-interests), the relocation plans stand. But this outcome is not anywhere near as tragic as, say, the firebombing of Dresden during WWII or the looting in Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Why? Because the Barnes Foundation artworks, moving to a more accessible location (by 2012), will be displayed as arranged in their thematic cluster formations just as Barnes wanted them. And they will be preserved, not destroyed or split up and sold off piecemeal. 

Much more to discuss about all the things brought up by this pithy documentary, perhaps at a later juncture.

In the early 1990s, I had the great joy of walking the grounds and interior spaces of the Barnes Foundation, in its beautiful and original location. The experience left me stunned in amazement, but I remember specifically its intimacy of design and also, its wooden floors. I'd like to get back one more time next year before the relocation is completed.  What I don't know yet is what will happen to the original structures and grounds after the move.

Any thoughts about art and its presentation in public spaces?  

Today's Rune: Wholeness.


Lana Gramlich said...

I'm all for public presentation of art (go figure.) I love murals on buildings, sculpture gardens, etc., etc. Past societies (i.e.; the Egyptians, Aztecs, etc.,) decorated just about EVERYTHING. Why don't we?

離婚 said...

Keep the faith, my Internet friend. You are a first-class writer and deserve to be heard.