• Albert C. Barnes

Albert C. Barnes used the fortune he amassed from his invention of the antiseptic Argyrol to amass one of the world’s preeminent collections of post-Impressionist and Modernist art. Valued at $6 billion, the collection includes 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes (more than in the entire city of Paris), and 59 Matisses.

Barnes stipulated in his will that the collection could be viewed only by private appointment at an out-of-the-way Philadelphia museum. So it was for 50 years, until in 2002 the Barnes Foundation board resolved to move the collection to a new public location in Center City, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The decision incited a lawsuit from advocates of the Barnes Museum’s current location and a fiery debate about the public value of art and when it’s legitimate to defy a dead philanthropist’s intentions.

Don Argott covers the controversy like an art heist in his documentary The Art of the Steal, screening Wednesday 3/10 at Northwestern’s Block Museum.