Review: Art and Craft Documentary

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If you had the ability to mimic the styles of the great artists so well that even art curators would be duped, would you sell it?

Unlike most of us, Mark Landis would rather donate it. Then spend more of his time and resources to create and donate another one. Then another. Then another for thirty years.

The same “original” artwork copied by Mark Landis has been distributed to various museums in the states. He would have gotten away with it unnoticed if it wasn’t for the diligent tracking of Michael Lenninger.

In 2011, The New York Times ran an article highlighting the prolific art forger who had submitted art to esteemed museums but not in exchange for money.  This man will re-create masterpieces and “donate” them to museums. Technically he is an art counterfeiter who has committed no crime since money was not exchanged.This article inspired the movie creators to investigate and tell the story of this man during the time that Landis was exposed. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the world is now introduced to one art forager who is not in it money.

At all. It is still bizarre even after watching documentary that after all that effort and time, money was never the intent.

Since 1987, he has been duping museum  curators with art pieces under falsified authentic certificates. He uses a cover story such as his deceased sister (which he has none) and he wanted to donate this “original” art piece on her behalf. All of the curators would accept them since everything seemed to check out.He presents himself  with alias such as Father James Brantley (he will actually appear with a cleric collar) or Mark Lanois. A great timeline of what Mark Landis has done can be found here

Like a Scooby Doo episde, Mark Landis was discovered by a sleuthing curator named Michael Lenninger. Lenninger had been a curator who was also given a donation by Lanids. Lenninger was able to figure out very quickly that the donated art was not real. For his own reasons, Lenninger spent years tracking down Landis and alerting museums to these deceptions. Lenninger subsequently became the watch dog for Landis and his “art donations”.

Art and Craft spends most of the film following along Landis as he recreates and distributes these pieces. We learn about his family history, habits,  therapy, and quirks.The film leads up to an exhibition in honor of Mark Landis and his copied art work titled Faux Real in 2012.  This is also  where Leninger and Landis meet face to face; the hunter and his quarry.

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For a person with no knowledge of the art world and its social circles, this documentary was riveting. Landis is a fascinating man. He has a whole list of psychological issues (which he reads off a list with a bemused smile during the film) . He is undergoing treatments and is visited by former case workers.

This hunched over man will spend hours in front of an old television.As reruns of television shows and movies flash by, he sits and copies art pieces from  photos in catalogs. From these photos and catalog info, he is able to use the correct canvas or board. He gets the textures and colors just right. Then he spends even more time driving to these museums hours away, complete with a story and outfit just to donate these pieces.All that work, all that time, all that gas yet he never asked for money in return for these pieces.

The more you watch the film, the more bizarre and intriguing it all is. It makes you wonder how hungry museums are for the privilege of owning an original that they would be so easily duped. The main question,which is asked later in the film by various people, is if Landis has all this talent why doesn’t he create his own original? A question he doesn’t answer and I wonder if he even should. His talent lies in mimicry and is very proud of his pieces.

With his soft voice punctuated by many sighs, he just comes off as a very lonely man who sees his gifts as gifts.  He knows he’s deceiving these museums but it is still a gift nonetheless. Museums do waste time and money on proving that these are unauthentic but I still fail to grasp how much this negatively impacts it. I would think that the museum would be amused and use his notoriety as a publicity stunt.

Ultimately it isn’t right that he deceived these people. I can only imagine the embarrassment and resentment that Landis would have wrought upon these curators.

At the same time, I can’t help but cheer for the man. When esteemed art pieces can be mimicked using colored pencils or coffee stains, it brings down the superiority of the art elites just a tad bit.

If I had known about these deeds of Mark Landis before, I would have loved to attend the exhibition. His copied art is beautiful. Just using tools that I have in my own craft box, he was able to copy the style of the art almost perfectly. For someone who mimics costume designs for comic convention, it was wondrous seeing his skills at work.

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Mark Landis

Art and Craft was surprisingly entertaining. You can sense that the film makers were amused and fascinated by Landis. The film does not vilify  or paint him in a pathetic light, which would have been easy to do because of his mental state. Instead, the film shows a man who truly loved and admired his parents. A man who lives by the code of saints and swigs alcohol out of an antacid bottle. A man who just sits by an old television, eating TV dinners or copying art.

Art and Craft will be released theatrically in theaters in Los Angeles on September 26, 2014.
 

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