Since I’ve been on an art jag in my personal life, I thought I’d continue the art-themed posts in my blog life. Three movies you might want to check out should you have a Netflix account and the inclination:
A weird little piece that the viewer is not quite sure what to make of. But this viewer at least had a great time watching this movie; I laughed my head off at the absurd depiction of an absurd subculture: the art world. And while (Untitled) is clearly a satire, I was a little foggy on just how satirical the film intended to be. I don’t think it had the nerve to skewer the art world to the point of undermining it entirely — or undermining artists, I should say. The film addresses the “purity” of the artistic process and the vulgarity and nonsense that are the hazards of buying and selling something that ultimately can only be valued subjectively. Blah blah blah. I’m making the movie sound more boring than it actually is. Just writing about it makes me want to re-watch it, especially for a few choice scenes involving taxidermy and thumbtacks (not in the same scene, thankfully).
Exit Through the Gift Shop
A great follow up to the previous film, but unlike Untitled, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary, a supposedly-no-one-made-this-up sort of movie. Originally, Exit Through the Gift Shop was a film documenting the work of the famous, elusive, super-street artist Banksy before devolving, or evolving, into something far more strange: a film about the new and not-so-improved street artist Mr. Brainwash. This film will make you rethink what you think about art. And about gullibility. It might even serve to make you feel that your uncultured uncle, the one who points at an abstract expressionist painting and says, “My 4-year-old could do that!” just might be onto something. I think even Banksy was unnerved by the direction this film takes, and that’s no small thing. Because he’s Banksy, people. Banksy! The celebrated street artist!
I loved this documentary even though it felt oppressive at times, highlighting monomania in all its disturbing dysfunction. Made by Andrew Neel, Alice Neel’s grandson, the film is a great response to the first two films. The reason? It depicts someone who seemingly did away with the endless intellectualizing of art and the endless selling of art and just made art. Of course, this doesn’t translate very well in the world of flesh and blood where people need to eat, and this tension was foundational to the film. But seeing a monomaniacal artist at work felt like a rare privilege, especially when the talent delivers. I mean, it is not as though Alice Neel gave her life to folding pizza boxes (not that there’s anything wrong with that) — she was a real artist. Whatever that means — but you know what it means when you see her work. Alice Neel’s dedication to painting, depicted through the lens of her own family and the lens of history, is both repulsive and thrilling. It sort of gives you the creeps but also demands your respect, in the same way that monastic vows do. Alice Neel is the Knight Templar of portrait painting, with all the attendant horror and beauty of a soul given over purely to a noble pursuit. Art wins in the end, at great cost. But at least Alice didn’t have to spend her days convincing someone to buy one of her paintings because it matched the buyer’s sofa. That has to be worth something.
Alice Neel (the movie)
Alice Neel (the artist)