“People actually buy this shit”: Art Docs Explore Lines Between Art and Hype

"People actually buy this shit": Art Docs Explore Lines Between Art and Hype

For this IFC News article (“Exploring the Lines Between Art, Hype and Biz”), I got the opportunity to explore a recent trend in art-themed documentaries on the eve of the release of Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop”: How do you distinguish the “true” art from the art that’s just hyped? Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? And are the high prices that art sells for indicative of its success, or its impurity? And who gets to call it art, anyway?

Recent docs like “The Art of the Steal,” “My Kid Could Paint That,” “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?,” “Who Gets to Call It Art?,” “Herb and Dorothy,” and “Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same” all circle around similar issues: the big business of art; the quick-rich Antique-Road-Show-like appeal of the art world; and what makes good art good and how do people value it?

As I write, “So whether Pollock or Banksy, LeWitt or Enright, these documentaries all excavate that precariousness state — between pretentious crap and groundbreaking masterpiece — and the billions of dollars that hang in the balance.”

My favorite quote comes from a brief conversation with arts journalist David D’Arcy, who appears in “The Art of the Steal,” and wrote about the Banksy doc for The New York Observer. “It’s always been there,” he told me, discussing the celebrification of art and films like “My Kid Could Paint That.” “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. 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.”

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