The line at the new SoHo Jeffrey Deitch art gallery is around the block. There’s an air of hushed anticipation as the vanguard of the New York art world gathers to admire the latest discovery from the renowned art curator. This time, though, it’s no Keith Haring headlining the opening. On display is a family’s childhood artwork — albeit a family with one of the most bizarre childhood stories imaginable.
As Crystal Moselle chronicled in her Grand Jury Prize-winning Sundance documentary “The Wolfpack,” the six Angulo brothers were raised in captivity in their Lower East Side apartment. Their father, a dictatorial devotee to Hare Krishna, permitted the brothers to leave the apartment only to see the doctor once a year. Though their passive yet deeply loving mother homeschooled them, the brothers’ real portal to the outside was through movies. They became the world’s purest cinephiles, absorbing both life and culture through the subjectivity of cinema. For hours every day, the brothers would memorize scripts and reenact them dutifully. They created elaborate costumes, props and artworks relating to their favorite films.
Now, their childhood artifacts are on display for the world to see.
“The gallery opening was one of the most epic nights of my life,” said Mukunda in the afterglow. When asked how his background factored into the appreciation of his art, he seemed relieved that the Deitch patrons found his work interesting of its own merit. “Surprisingly, people were talking about the art itself,” he said. “They mostly wanted to know how I came to make my art, so I had to tell my story. I guess that’s what it all comes down to.”
Over the several years Moselle spent filming the Angulos inside their apartment, she marveled at the brothers’ ingenuity and dedication to their creations. “They would open the closets and show me a bunch of stuff, and it was so cool,” Moselle said. “I always had this vision of seeing their work in a gallery setting.”
“We did the art throughout our entire childhood, as well as for the last five years since we broke out,” said Mukunda. “We would do it for an entire day, four or five times a week.” Mukunda is largely responsible for the output, though he credits his brother, Eddie, with help on costumes.
“Every day we still put on costumes and reenact scenes,” said Mukunda. “We’re doing posters right now, as you and I are talking.” He described a tradition he’s termed the “new hotness,” in which Mukunda and Eddie reinvent a poster from yesteryear. “We redraw a new picture of the old picture and make it better or updated, so we don’t get bored of the old ones.”
“We worked with resources around the house,” Mukunda continued. “Stuff that had been thrown out. The Samurai sword was made out of something that holds the window up and a piece of pillow case.”
Mukunda’s favorite piece is a series of Batman costumes, which he spent three years perfecting. “A lot of me is in there,” he said. “Countless hours. Literally your blood and sweat go into these pieces. I would not sleep or shower all week to get the Michael Bay mask done. Those are my favorites — the ones you break your ass to make.”
The highlight of Mukunda’s night was an unexpected appearance by his personal hero, Spike Jonze. “He’s one of my favorite directors of all time, and a supporter of our film as well,” said Mukunda. “He said how amazing the art was. I got so excited; I wanted to show him everything!” Meeting Jonze meant coming face-to-face with a person whose artistic vision shaped Mukunda’s entire perspective on life.
“Spike Jonze said for us to keep going and not stop making stuff as long as we live,” said Muknda. “That had a huge impact on me. It really motivates you to keep going if a person you’ve learned from, and learned how to talk from, says that. He’s like my movie guardian. It was top-notch.”
Another guest of honor was the Angulos’ mother, Susanne. “She walked in and was almost in tears,” said Moselle. “Just to see all this stuff that they had grown up creating, all in one place…She always believed in them, and felt like what they were doing was so special. But you never know how it’s going to translate to the public.”
Moselle described a similar experience making her documentary: Though she always knew the Angulos were special, she could never be sure that their story could be communicated in a moving way. “It’s such a wonderful thing that people are responding to them and the story,” she said.
At the end of “The Wolfpack” documentary, Mukunda is shown directing a short film with his brothers. The short, “Window Feel,” premiered at the gallery as one of the event’s centerpieces. It’s highly stylized; the set is decorated with the meticulous attention to detail one could only expect of Mukunda. There’s also a very evident Lynchian influence. “The idea comes from my childhood experience looking out a window and watching life go by,” he said. “But the real style and music comes from ‘Twin Peaks.’ I kept listening to the Rug Dance theme over and over again. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure how to approach it until I heard this theme, and then I knew exactly how the set design and costumes were going to be.”
Although Mukunda does hope to direct a feature someday, he’s not keen to jump in prematurely. “Making a film always takes time,” he said. “In the middle of all the exciting things that are happening in our lives, we’re trying to keep everything in balance and make sure we don’t just make a movie and make it look like crap.”
“There’s a lot more that these boys are going to create,” said Moselle. “Mukunda wants to make movies, and I hope that this can help him do that.”
Moselle, for her part, remains in a state of disbelief. At the gallery opening, she recalled the first night she met the Angulos as they wandered the streets of the Lower East Side looking like fish out of water. Now, the boys are in their element.
“I would love to take this gallery around the world,” said Mukunda. “I would love to show the world our art. This is just the beginning. As long as some of us live, we’ll keep making bigger things.”
“It’s all been one giant rollercoaster after another,” Mukunda continued. “I’d like to think that this is creating a balance for us. We’ve been locked for all of our lives in an apartment, and now we’re in the spotlight, experiencing all of the things at once. There’s no time to waste. We have to keep going.”