21 July 2011

Whatever You Can Get Away With

Honestly, I've always felt that cinematic depictions of "the life of an artist," if not of the artworld in general, are invariably awful -- if not often hilariously so. Very few exceptions come to mind. This awfulness plagues the entire spectrum -- be it your standard bio pic, or films that just happen to fold something to do with art (usually by way of a specific character) into the storyline.

The video above is from a project by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, which they did with photographer Max Pinckers, executed in response to an idea given to them by artist Setareh Shahbazi. Curious to see what the artists used in this project, because naturally a number of other films come to mind that weren't included. Perhaps it could've used something from the film Backbeat -- preferably the ridiculous scene where the character of Stuart Sutcliffe and his girlfriend are torridly making love in his studio while smearing each other with his oil paints? (I'm sure the necessary post-coital turpentine bath was even sexier.) No matter, the artists seem to have deliberately passed on a number of options for the sake of perversely featuring Hershell Gordon Lewis's Color Me Blood Red instead.

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Matthew Collings weighed in on the matter or art and artists in film with one of his "Art Diary" columns for Modern Painters some time last year, making a few choice observations in the process. Speaking of vintage artist biopics like Lust for Life, The Agony and the Ecstacy, and John Houston's Moulin Rouge, he comments:

"The films have the limitations of melodrama, but they're rather fascinating today because they're about something society doesn't have any more: the automatic expectation that art should be sincere. It's like the attraction of the TV series Mad Men, which shows us a lost sense of moral restraint, impossible for anyone to escape 50 years ago but impossible now for anyone to take seriously."

Right. Were we ever so young?

And later, bringing things closer to the present:

"The unreal feeling that art has for noninitiates slips easily into a feeling that perhaps evil lies behind -- or is somehow let in by -- art's increasing obscurity. Or maybe it's just that all art values were defeated in the '80s by the value of money. The hero of Wall Street knows he's successful because he can afford a Julian Schnabel plate painting. [...] On a whole other level, Wall Street is fun because it's entertaining to contemplate the semiotics of utter bullshit. ...Art in the movie stands for moral ambiguity. It can be flipped at auction for enormous undeserved profits, a fact that the audience knows because the corporate raider casually boasts that he did just that only the other day with a Picasso that still hangs in his office. The audience isn't sure if it's the painting that's evil or the money."

All of which seems to compliment the clip above very nicely, in one way or another.

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But back to Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin...

"April to August, 1993." From the People in Trouble
Pushed to the Ground
series, 2011.

"Work and No Play #4," 2008.

Collage from the series Afterlife, 2009.

"June 10," from the series The Day 
Nobody Died, 2008.

From the Prestige of Terror series,  2010.

"Chicago #3," 2006

"Mini-Israel #7," from the series Chicago, 2006.

"Mario, Psychiatric Hospital, Cuba."
 From the series Ghetto, 2003.

"Photojournalism cannot be radical because it has to work within familiar patterns," Adam Broomberg recently commented, "It is politically ineffectual." By turned the lens to the periphery of the "action," Broomberg and Chanarin try to disrupt or circumvent the standardized narratives in which such images usually circulate. You can get a clearer idea of their intent from the artists' statement "Unconcerned but not Indifferent" from a few years ago, and see more of their work at their website.

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