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Review: Portrait of Wally

Institutionalized extortion
By MILES HOWARD  |  June 19, 2012
2.0 2.0 Stars



Somewhere in the slog of Andrew Shea's Portrait of Wally is a devastating story of institutionalized extortion and its victims. Unfortunately, its human dimensions are buried under an analysis of legal red tape. Chugging back to 1939 Vienna, Shea begins with the Nazi seizure of taboo-busting painter Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally, formerly the property of Jewish gallery owner Lea Bondi. What follows is a recounting of what happened after the war, as the Bondi clan locked horns with self-serving museums for restitution of the painting. Although Shea succeeds in placing revered institutions like MoMA and NPR in the hot seat for their culpability in prolonging the scandal, his interviews with Bondi's children are all too brief and unrevealing. Had Shea entrusted them with telling the bulk of this story, the film might have bruised with genuine fury. In the more pragmatic hands of museum curators and journalists who doted on the case, Wally sputters to an unremarkable conclusion.

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