Con Artist -- Film Review

Entertainingly satirical doc details the wild story of notorious art world figure Mark Kostabi.

NEW YORK -- Telling the sort of rags-to-riches-to-rags story that would seem utterly contrived if it were not true, "Con Artist" relates the saga of short-lived art world phenomenon Mark Kostabi in highly entertaining style. Its title derived from its subject’s self-revealing declaration that “modern art is a con and I am the world’s greatest con artist.” Michael Sladek’s lighthearted documentary seems excellent fodder for future feature film treatment.

Kostabi had the good luck to begin his career during the money and status-obsessed 1980s, when the art world exploded with inflated prices and reputations. Part of the downtown NYC scene that also produced such stars as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, he outdid his contemporaries in one key respect -- an uncanny instinct for provocation and self-promotion.

Not to mention chutzpah, as he developed a supremely ironic system of mass producing thousands of art works per year, created not by him but by a rotating “staff” of hired guns.

The results were immense riches and fame, not to mention a ballooning ego that resulted in his downfall. He eventually fell out of favor and, as the film’s second half depicts in agonizing detail, wound up virtually bankrupt. He moved to Italy (where he inexplicably received a commission by the Vatican), then resorted to such gimmicks as a public access television game show in which audience members are given the task of naming his latest paintings.

A number of talking heads -- ranging from friends and contemporaries to critics and filmmaker Michel Gondry -- provide astute analysis of the subject, with one comment, by art critic Donald Kuspit, standing out in particular: “He’s Applebee’s aspiring to be the Olive Garden.”

Opened: Nov. 12 (Plug Ugly Films)
Production: Acme Pictures, Group Entertainment
Director/producer/director of photography: Michael Sladek
Executive producers: Guilherme Campellon, Gill Holland
Editors: Jacob Bricca, Michael Sladek
Not rated, 84 minutes

comments powered by Disqus