The Art of the Steal


Generally favorable reviews - based on 19 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 19
  2. Negative: 0 out of 19

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Critic Reviews

  1. 88
    What is finally clear: It doesn't matter a damn what your will says if you have $25 billion, and politicians and the establishment want it.
  2. It's memorable when it meditates on the changing face of where we look at art, and how that changes the art itself.
  3. 83
    Packed with more intrigue and excitement than one might expect.
  4. I can agree that the power brokers in this scenario, who effectively broke Barnes's will, have far more interest in tourism than in masterpieces. But casting this story as a battle between the elites and the philistines mischaracterizes the situation.
  5. The Art of the Steal's thorough research, bolstered by many fiery talking heads, makes it one of the most successful advocacy docs in recent years and may prompt some firsthand investigating of your own.
  6. Despite the unsubtlety of the movie’s stance, a dizzyingly complex portrait emerges: that of pissed-off museum neighbors, arrogant critics and even the NAACP’s dignified Julian Bond, articulating a racial component.
  7. One weakness is the too-brief, tantalizing peeks inside the Barnes. Yet, like the movie as a whole, this limitation comes with dividends: it made me want to hop on a plane to Philadelphia as soon as possible to see the original before it’s emptied.
  8. Calculated to enrage and pulling it off like gangbusters, Don Argott’s documentary The Art of the Steal pits the legacy of the late Albert C. Barnes’s Barnes Foundation (which boasts arguably the world’s finest collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art) against the social-climbing, philistine, downright Nixonian machinations of Philadelphia’s wealthiest--who gamed the system and pried the collection loose in defiance of Barnes’s legal will.
  9. 80
    Documentary maker Don Argott (Rock School) beautifully explicates how this crew pulled off the most daring daylight art theft in history, though his passionate identification with the pro-Barnes faction limits the movie's political nuance.
  10. Energetically entertaining if a bit one-sided.
  11. While The Art of the Steal makes a very convincing – even bone-chilling – argument that the people and foundations that essentially hijacked the Barnes Foundation are primarily concerned with tourist dollars and not the preservation of Barnes' legacy, the film fails to even ponder why easier access to some of the world's greatest art treasures might not be an entirely bad thing.
  12. 75
    A damning example of justice bending toward those who can most afford to buy it.
  13. The Art of the Steal is activist filmmaking, but it's well-done activist filmmaking. And, given that the Barnes fight isn't quite yet over, it could also become the most most important kind of filmmaking: the kind that makes a difference.
  14. 70
    The film can be dry and a little repetitive. For all of that, it still manages to generate a surprising measure of suspense and it produces outrage in abundance.
  15. What The Art of the Steal documents most dramatically is the irresistible pull of irreplaceable art.
  16. As a movie, Steal is as finely wrought as the decorative ironworks that hang on the walls of the Barnes between Picassos and Seurats. Yet as a narrative of the facts, it is as one-sided as a plaintiff's brief.
  17. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    The movie’s never less than entertaining, but you often feel like arguing with the screen, and not in a good way.
  18. While the rich people who violated a dead antagonist's wishes seem sleazy (especially when they refuse to be interviewed), transporting world-class artwork five miles to a bigger facility where more people can enjoy it hardly seems like the end of civilization as we know it.
  19. Argott treats Barnes' story as an intellectual crime thriller, uncovering each new surprise -- and a seemingly endless parade of villains -- with a deadpan flourish.

Awards & Rankings

User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 8 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 1 out of 1
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 1
  3. Negative: 0 out of 1
  1. Jan 8, 2011
    A suspenseful and ultimately tragic look at how a man's $25 billion art collection has been completely undermined by those who do not careA suspenseful and ultimately tragic look at how a man's $25 billion art collection has been completely undermined by those who do not care about his intentions or philosophy. I'm not sure why Ed Rendell would have agreed to be interviewed for this because he comes off like a real jag. Full Review »