There’s a certain excitement about film festival that you don’t get from the usual movie going experience. Part of it is of course the thrill that come from watching movies that you didn’t even know exist before and got pleasantly surprised by it. Which is why I decided to crash in the Design Film Festival and come across Art and Craft.
Mark Landis is a gifted artist. To be exact, he’s a very gifted art forger that spend his days making perfect copies of art masterpieces. He duped a lot of unsuspecting art curators and got his work displayed in various museums across the states. But when a certain single-minded art curator that goes by the name Matthew Leininger found out that he’d been beguiled, Landis would have to face the legacy of his decades long con.
As someone who know next to nothing about art world and the news surrounding it, I was really surprised when the figure of Mark Landis showed up on screen. I wasn’t expecting this frail looking middle aged man that reminds me of a stray cat who needs to be taken care of. And as the story unfold, I found it really hard to deem what Landis doing as something wrong or, even worse, a crime. Maybe it’s the way Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman present Art and Craft into a movie that subtly side with Landis and got us sympathizing with him. I really adore how they set the tone from the start with the oh so memorable opening quote from Landis: “Nothing is original under the sun”. Then there’s the short visits to mental health clinic that will got you feeling sorry for him. Also the snippets of Landis’ conversation with Aaron Cowan that unveiled some mini revelation. Or the days of hanging out with Landis that will give you a better understanding of this man and his reasons for his continuous philanthropic acts. And ultimately, there’s the words from FBI: It is not a crime, for Landis never demand any form of payment from his arts. He donated his works, and it is the curators’ decision on whether or not those are worthy of being put up in the walls of their museums.
All of the aforementioned parts got me leaning towards Landis and I ended up seeing the curators as some kind of petulant child. They got beguiled by Landis and, instead of admitting Landis’ outstanding skills, they stomp their feet down and sulk. Even one of the curator plainly said that “we don’t like to be duped”. It’s a blow to their pride, yes, but I don’t think that – and “he sort of wasted my time” – are valid enough reasons for the kind of obsession that Leininger grew to uncover all of Landis’ ruse. An obsession that ultimately got him out of job and seems to be influencing even his daughter. Yet somehow, Leininger relentless attempt to expose Landis to the world was also a part of what land Landis in the spotlight of various medias a few years ago. Cowan, on the other hand, seems to found Landis intriguing and admire him enough to set up an exhibit about him, presenting not only Landis’ artworks and but also the man himself to the world and curious patrons. Needless to say, I like Cowan’s approach better than Leininger’s.
I’m not saying that what Landis doing is right, but he got it right when he says that there’s nothing original under the sun. Every piece of works are influenced in one way or another by a former piece. It’s all derivative works and a matter of how we present them with a sense of novelty. And Landis is at least honest with what he’s doing – forging. He’s excellent at it, and he’s not in it for the money. It’s all for the personal satisfaction of being a philanthropic, and that is what makes him happy. From my perspective, he doesn’t actually cost anyone anything, except maybe some bruised pride.
Although this movie, and the words of those who visit his exhibition, does roused a question in the back of my mind. After spending, almost all of his life copying others’ arts, can Landis actually make something “original” that is ultimately his?
Directors: Sam Cullman & Jennifer Grausman. Film Editor: Mark Becker. Released on: 17 April 2014 (Tribeca Film Festival)