Portrait of Wally | Chicago Reader

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90 minutes · 2012

In 1997, as the Museum of Modern Art was packing up an exhibition of paintings by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele, claims surfaced that one painting, Portrait of Wally, had been stolen from the private collection of Lea Bondi, a Viennese Jew, by a Nazi art dealer, and this theft was known to Rudolph Leopold, the prominent collector who had subsequently acquired the canvas. The ensuing restitution battle between him and U.S. attorneys lasted for 12 years and pulled in not only some of America’s most prominent art institutions, which argued that restitution would discourage foreign museums from lending art here, but also National Public Radio, whose reporting on the story was disputed by MoMA. Unlike The Art of the Steal (2009), which also looks at a legal dispute in the art world, this documentary by Andrew Shea fails to provide a clear exposition of the complicated story, and it suffers from apparent partiality: David D'Arcy, a former NPR correspondent who was fired over the story, is presented onscreen as an independent source, though he also served as a cowriter and producer.

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