Albert C. Barnes decreed in his will that his $6 billion art collection would never be moved. After years of legal battles, it’s now scheduled to relocate in 2012. (IFC Films)

To whom does art belong — museums or the public they ostensibly serve? More interestingly: From whom should art be protected? “The Art of the Steal’’ is a fascinating, maddening documentary that addresses these issues with a mixture of clarity and agit-doc disingenuousness. The movie’s never less than entertaining, but you often feel like arguing with the screen, and not in a good way.

The subject is the Barnes Foundation, an educational art institution in the suburbs of Philadelphia that houses one of the greatest troves of paintings on the planet: 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses; Picassos and Monets and van Goghs, oh my. The Barnes holdings would be considered priceless if price weren’t very much the subtext of the current battle over where they belong. The paintings have been valued at over $6 billion. You’d better believe price matters.


Ty Burr
Boston Globe