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Exploring the Lines Between Art, Hype and Biz

Exploring the Lines Between Art, Hype and Biz (photo)

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“I had reservations about making art a business,” the famous art collector Mary Boone once said. “But I got over it.”

Such is the tension within all artistic industries — film, painting, theater or music, the idea of selling-out dogs them all. Are the high prices that paintings go for at Sotheby’s or films sell for at Sundance indicative of their success, or their impurity? And how do you distinguish the “true” art from the art that’s just hyped? Do the two have to be mutually exclusive?

The recent documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop” takes up these questions and then some. Ever since its “surprise” Sundance premiere in January, the film has generated a considerable amount of attention. Supposedly directed by British street-art provocateur Banksy — famous for his political and controversial acts of graffiti, such as painting on Israel’s West Bank Barrier — much of the buzz has circled around questions of the film’s veracity: Was the film’s protagonist, a French videomaker-turned-artist named Thierry Guetta, just a fabrication? Was the entire project yet another infamous Banksy prank?

But whether the film is real or staged or somewhere in between misses the point: “Exit Through the Gift Shop” — as its title suggests — is ultimately a lacerating critique on the commercialization of art, making it the latest in a new wave of documentaries that focus on the struggles of artists and art aficionados to define the value of art in a world dominated by profit motives and capitalist enterprise. As the recently released “The Art of The Steal” makes strikingly apparent in its chronicle of Philadelphia’s power grab of a private collection of impressionist masterworks, art is big business.

It’s no surprise that Banksy also raises the ugly specter of art’s commodification in his debut film. After his works sold at Sotheby’s in 2007 for record-breaking amounts for a young artist, he posted a painting of an auction house on his website with the caption, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.”

04192010_mykid.jpgOne could pose a similar question to the patrons of abstract expressionist artist Marla Olmstead, the four-year-old painter at the center of Amir Bar-Lev’s 2007 documentary “My Kid Could Paint That.” Like “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” which contrasts art that’s heralded as legitimate (from Banksy) with work that is depicted as a rip-off (by Guetta), Bar-Lev’s film addresses a similar conflict. Are Olmstead’s paintings true expressions of childhood genius, or is her art guided by her father, an amateur painter, and then exploited for profit as the work of a prodigy?

2006’s “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” starts with a matching quandary. The film opens with an image of an abstract expressionist painting and the voiceover: “Is this a genuine honest-to-god no-doubt-about-it American masterpiece, possibly worth up to $50 million? Maybe.” In a former female truck driver’s quest to make millions off an alleged Pollock she bought at a thrift shop, the film explores the ambiguities inherent in the validation of a piece of art. While art experts claim the painting is a cheap knock-off, the woman and her family hire forensic scientists to prove the work to be Pollock’s based on fingerprint analysis. Despite the high-brow art world’s unwavering refusal to acknowledge the art as legitimate, bids for the drip painting go from $2 million to $9 million. (As of last reporting, the painting was still awaiting higher offers.)

Ultimately, “Exit,” “Kid” and “Pollock” leave the question of their art’s authenticity up for the audience to decide — it’s actually this ambiguity that helps construct the films’ central conflicts and mysteries. But by the movies’ final frames, a few things become clear: quality art is difficult to define, the people who buy it (and buy into it) are often ignorant about what makes it worthwhile, and the background of the artists may be more important to observers and consumers than the artwork itself. There may be no more ironic display of such misguided celebrification and misunderstanding of art than the array of young L.A. hipster-fashionistas in “Exit” captured on camera declaring brand-new art-star Guetta’s laughably derivative debut show “a revelation.”

04192010_pollock.jpgThese issues are nothing new in the art world, of course. “It’s always been there,” says arts journalist David D’Arcy. “You’re not just selling a work of art for what it is; you’re selling it as an abstract painting by a child. It’s not so different from selling a painting by a serial killer. You’re selling an autograph,” continues D’Arcy. “When Basquiat died of an overdose in 1988, it had to be his shrewdest career move. Modigliani, Frida Kahlo, same thing. You can sell martyrdom. Would these pictures mean anything if we didn’t have the biography? It’s almost like having the footnotes.”

If personality has supplanted quality, who gets to determinate art’s “quality” in the first place? Or to borrow the title of another recent doc, about Henry Geldzahler, the Met’s first curator of contemporary art, “Who Gets to Call It Art?”

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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