Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jason goes to Indiefest--Closing Night

Unless, of course, you count a bonus weekend (next weekend) skiing at Sugar Bowl and watching movies at night (in the Judah Lounge). But I don't, because I'll be at Cinequest instead. And I have now seen every single movie to play at Indiefest since 2002.

I only saw one movie the final night, and that was the documentary THE ART OF THE STEAL. It's the story of the Barnes Foundation, an institution just outside of Philadelphia (that's important) that is the world's greatest collection of Post-Impressionistic art. It's the story of the man, Dr. Barnes, who used his fortune to collect early works of Renoir, C├ęzanne and Matisse, etc. before the rest of the art world recognized them as masters. In fact, when he did a showing at the Philadelphia museum of art, they called it horrible. So he had no further use for them, and was famous for not letting art critics tour his collection, while he would let plumbers tour it. This remained true as the masters he collected became recognized as masters and the value of his collection grew (now valued at $25 billion). He also set up the Barnes Foundation as first and foremost a school of art, and considered his role as an educator paramount. In his will, he insisted (among other things) that his art never be sold, never be loaned out, and his foundation always be a school. And to safeguard this, he willed his collection to Lincoln University, which at the time was a small but prestigious all black school. And this movie is about how the foundations of Philadelphia conspired to in all but name steal his art (or control of his foundation) from his legacy and make it a tourist attraction in downtown Philadelphia. The mayor of Philadelphia, Governor Ed Rendell, and foundations such as the Pew and the Annenberg (late Inquirer publish Walter Annenberg fought with Dr. Barnes constantly) conspired to wrest control away and move the foundation to Philadelphia, which upsets a lot of long-time Barnes supporters. At least, that is the case of the movie. And it's convincingly made, and very slickly put together, but I can't help noticing it only tells one side of the story. Sure, a lot of people refused to be interviewed for the movie, and I can understand why. But it does leave me with questions. Most notably, while Dr. Barnes put so much emphasis on education, it seems by the end the filmmakers are putting all their focus on real estate--it's all about moving the art 5 miles away. They don't even get into whether the new location will continue the teaching tradition (I've been informed by a friend who used to live in Philadelphia that the answer is "yes," but the movie doesn't say that). In a way, I feel like while Dr. Barnes would've certainly refused to move, maybe the supporters (and filmmakers) are worrying more about Dr. Barnes' legacy of giving Philadelphia elites a middle finger and less about what is best for the art. Still, a very engaging movie that at least in the moment had me convinced. Oh, and the little line item in the Pennsylvania state budget allocating funds to move the Barnes exhibit 5 years before the court order allowing it...that's a pretty convincing piece of evidence for a conspiracy there.

And now, Indiefest 2010 is in the books.

Running Time: 101 minutes
My Total Minutes: 172,057


Anonymous said...

Your review is refreshing, honest.Just a word or two about the educational program and how it is changing,despite your friend's impressions to the contrary. At the Barnes, the galleries are the classrooms. The intimacy of the place is one of its gifts and you can get inches away from masterpieces, see the brush strokes, feel the colors. The plan for Philadelphia is something else. Otherwise, why would they need classrooms, separating students from the artwork? The reason is that so much money - about $250,000,000 is being spent on turning the Barnes into a museum that they will have to hold classes away from the art because the throngs of tourists will have preference. This is clearly not what Albert Barnes wanted. I hope you will come to see for yourself.

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