Artists, Collectors, and the Art World, Oh My!

This past year I tried to watch movies about artists, the collectors who purchase their work, and the art world (gallery dealers, museum curators, restorers, insurers, etc). The following represents a synopsis of my viewing history + pithy observations.


It is very difficult to make a balanced film or documentary about a currently living artist. If the artist (or the artist’s estate) is going to cooperate with the filmmaker, then usually the film dips into hagiography. On the plus side, you get to see the artist’s original work in the film. The downside is the sugar-coated story leaves a lot of unexplained questions because the answers might damage the legacy that is so stridently being preserved. The better artist films are typically those where the artist has been long dead and there is no estate to contend with. Unfortunately, most of these artists had a huge factory of workers and assistants helping them with their work, and you never see these people being mentioned, which I find frustrating. Nevertheless, the artist bio films do provide a good introduction to many artists I had never heard of before.

  1. Goya’s Ghosts (2006) Drama. Points out Goya’s importance in the transition from the traditional age into modern. Unfortunately, film gets bogged down on the soap-opera-esque side stories.
  2. Bomb It (2007) Documentary. History of graffiti art (using spray cans) in USA and around the world. Interesting to see how culture affects presentation (ie. NYC vs. Berlin vs. Cape Town vs. Barcelona)
  3. The Time Being (2012) Drama. Artist does commissioned work to gather source material for dying artist.
  4. Cutie and the Boxer (2013) Documentary. The complex and competitive world of two artists married to one another.
  5. My Kid Could Paint That (2007) Documentary. Art fraud or child prodigy? You be the judge.
  6. Beautiful Losers (2008) Documentary. Street artists and graphic designers of the 1990s, the importance of having a sympathetic gallery for artistic synergy
  7. The Universe of Keith Haring (2008) Documentary. Mostly hagiography, but lots of his original art. I found it interesting that they wanted him to paint LESS so that his art would increase in value!
  8. Little Ashes (2008) Drama. The early years of Federico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dali, and Luis Brunel and their complex relationships- not much art work shown.
  9. The Mill and the Cross (2011) Drama. Multiple re-enactments of Bruegel’s most famous works- nearly no talking.
  10. Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998) Drama. The life of Francis Bacon, not flattering, NONE of his original artwork shown, although models and inspirational reflections are in abundance.
  11. Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (2014) Documentary. Giger looks very frail throughout, lots of his artwork and domicile shown.
  12. Big Eyes (2014) Drama. Tim Burton’s tribute to one of his favorite artists, Margaret Keane and her bug eyed waifs.
  13. Our City Dreams (2008 ) Documentary. Mini bios of five different women artists (Caledonia Curry, Ghadee Amer, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramovic, and Nancy Spero) at very different points in their lives.
  14. One Bad Cat: The Reverend Albert Wagner Story (2008 ) Documentary. Life of Albert Wagner, but like Giger, he is very frail and old in the movie in contrast to the majority of his controversial working life.
  15. Turner (2014 ) Drama. Life of the British father of impressionism.
  16. In the Realms of the Unreal (2004) Documentary. Chicago recluse Henry Darger provides the definition of “outsider art”, but fortunately for him, his landlord had connections to the art world.
  17. Rivers and Tides (2001) Documentary. A look at the environmentally ephemeral art of Andy Goldsworthy. Absolutely beautiful, with interesting observations on the impact of sheep on the environment.
  18. Manufactured Landscapes (2006) Documentary. A look at the locales (mostly Asia) and philosophy of photographer Edward Burtynsky.
  19. Here is Always Somewhere Else (2007) Documentary. The enigmatic life of conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader. Also a good lesson on ‘curating’ someone else’s work.
  20. Guest of Cindy Sherman (2008) Documentary. Cindy Sherman’s boyfriend comes to grips with the housewife’s reality of being the person in the room no one wants to talk to. Features the celebrated photographer’s many shows.
  21. Helvetica (2007) Documentary. The birth of a type face in excruciating detail. With critique, also excruciating.
  22. Ai Weiwei Never Sorry (2012) Documentary. The controversial Chinese artist, his shows, and his run-ins with Chinese political leaders and police chiefs.
  23. Finding Vivian Maier (2013) Documentary. Chicago recluse photographer Vivian Maier who spent her life snapping photos while earning a living as a nanny. “Discovered” after she died. Had me wondering about the nature of art- she herself never edited her work- she just hoarded it and her ‘discoverer’ was the one who decided what’s what.


Who are the people who purchase (or steal) art? Well, they are an unusual bunch. In watching these movies, I began to seriously question the dogma that viewing art makes you a “better” person.

  1. The Best Offer (2013) Drama. An art auctioneer has his own way of amassing a collection of female portraiture until he meets his match.
  2. Herb & Dorothy (2008) Documentary. DIY collecting- he is a postal worker and she is a teacher. One salary is for living expenses, the other salary is for collecting art. Wait until you see how they store their collection.
  3. Art of the Steal (2009) Documentary. Despite the best laid legal documents of collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes, he could not control the destiny of his post-impressionist and modern art masterpieces after his demise.
  4. Woman in Gold (2015) Drama. What happens when a country steals your family art collection and markets it as a national treasure/tourist attraction?
  5. Rape of Europa (2006) Documentary. How the Nazis collected art, particularly Goering.


Art World

The movies about the museums are ok, but most movies about the art world generally portray the major players as unsavory, money-grubbing, unscrupulous, immoral manipulators. Sigh.

  1. Boogie Woogie (2009) Drama. Highly disturbing view of London art scene complete with gallery owners, collectors, and artists.
  2. Mickey Blue Eyes (1999) Comedy. This is a great comedy which features a mob intrusion into the art auction market. Hilarious- watch for the Chinese restaurant scene!
  3. Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock (2006) Documentary. A truck driver buys a painting from a thrift store and tries to prove it was painted by Jackson Pollock.
  4. Russian Ark (2002) Drama. If you have ever wondered what these European palaces turned into art galleries might have looked like in their heyday as actual working spaces, then this is the movie for you. Filmed in the Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg.
  5. National Gallery (2014) Documentary. Behind the scenes look at the National Gallery in London- but it is 3 HOURS LONG!

mosaic ala knife

Reflecting Pool                                               oil                                             8 x 10

It is painting with friends day and in my rush to get to the place,  I forget my paint thinner. No where to be found in my bag of tricks. How am I going to clean my brushes? Answer: don’t use brushes. Use a palette knife and clean knife by wiping off paint with paper towels. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Complementary Colors

Trying to take a piece of the original representational painting:

spring meadow           oil             11 x 14

and render a portion of it abstract:

offering                    oil       11 x 14

Rather a lot of orange and blue in this one. I think the Cubs winning the World Series was too much on my mind. We are a product of our environment.

Abstract laundry

Just got back from holiday vacation with family and now in the post-vacation laundry onslaught. Reminds me of some paintings I did recently….

The assignment was to take a portion of a painting and make it into an abstract.

This is the original:

Valley of Dreams                                           oil                                         10 x 20


The new abstracts still look like laundry.

laundry line 1        oil     8 x 10
laundry line 2        oil              6 x 6

Despite my best efforts, a representational core. Sigh…just can’t get away from that laundry!

Rewards of Speaking Your Truth

The day after the election I went to paint with my friends in the southern suburbs. I felt awful, like I had been beat up with a baseball bat- but I thought it would be better to be around people than hole up in some cave.

My friend Corrie has founded a painting group. We are nine women of different ages, background and faiths, but what we all have in common is we are artists. We meet each Wednesday and paint together. And yes- we are even diverse in our approach to art. Some are realistic still life oil painters,a few do pastel, watercolor, collage, and abstract acrylic. I really love these women. Corrie has created a supportive atmosphere where one is free to make art. Even though I know that Corrie and her whole family are ardent Republicans and Trump voters, I know that Corrie is my friend and I love her dearly.

The day after the election, we weren’t talking much politics. It was still too raw for most of us. Corrie turned our attention to a potential venue for a show. She really wants all of us to put on a show together.

Corrie started talking about this beautiful church she had found in La Grange and how the programs director was enthusiastic about our group exhibiting there. I didn’t say anything, but a warning flag came up in my mind. This was a church. I listened closely. Corrie said that our work would be exhibited in the central sanctuary (where they pray) for everyone to see. She said the venue was beautiful: the church was built of gray stone with imported dark wood carvings from Italy. They exhibit shows regularly, so the lighting is really good. A lot of people would be seeing our work, and that’s what artists want, right? As many people as possible looking at their work.

I felt my stomach go into knots. She was so enthusiastic and hopeful- who was I to rain on her parade? Is quashing my friend’s hope sufficient reason for me to smother my truth? I decided that I had better get used to speaking up and suffering the consequences because I might be having to do a lot of that over the next four years. In my head I repeated to myself, “Never ask a question where you are afraid to hear the answer.” I would be testing my friends.

I said, “This sounds like a beautiful venue, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t feel comfortable exhibiting my work there.”

Corrie looked at me in shocked disbelief.

“It’s just that I’m Muslim. And the people you spoke with at the church, they are assuming that all of us are Christian. There are some people in that church who may not be comfortable having Muslim paintings in their sanctuary. This sounds like a great opportunity for all of you to exhibit, so you go for it. Don’t let me stop you. I’ll do another show with you.”

Corrie said, “Well, I don’t think they would object.”

I replied, “I don’t think you understand the political climate right now.” She stared at me in disbelief. “I think you at least have to tell the people in charge the situation. They’ll know their parish better than you, they’ll know how people will feel about it.”

Corrie looked thoughtful. Then she said, “We’re not doing this show without you. We are going to show together, all of us. That is what this group is about. And if this church doesn’t want your work there because you are Muslim, then I don’t want my work there either. It is against my Christian principles to have this kind of discrimination.”

I thanked her. Tears welled up in my eyes. Although I had initially been afraid to speak up, after I found the courage to do so, I was rewarded with a demonstration of my friend’s love and solidarity.

Sometimes it is ok to rain on someone’s parade. Those puddles can give off beautiful reflections.

As a postscript, I’m sharing the paintings I made that day in Corrie’s workshop. Not my best effort, but considering the emotional circumstances, I’m ok with them.

I recently read of one meditation technique whereby you keep focused one image for a full minute, trying very hard to not think of anything else, blocking out all other competing thoughts. Looks like I am going to be doing a lot of still lives in the days to come….


Wearing My Pin

I’m taking a cue from Kate Brunner over at Feminism and Religion:

” For the foreseeable future, I’ll be wearing a single suffragette “pearl” on a safety pin, fastened over my heart to let anyone who crosses my path know I am a safe person to ask for help should they ever feel unsafe or threatened in my country. And notice I said anyone — I mean it too. ALL of my fellow Americans. Even the ones who would seek to strip me of rights and protections. As challenging as it may be, the service my faith demands of me does not discriminate.”

She was inspired by the Australian and Brexit movement.

I’m not going to wear a single pearl, instead I’ll be wearing the pins that my mother used to wear. They aren’t white, but I feel they better embody the message I am trying to convey. Added bonus, they will remind me of my mother and the values she tried so hard to pass on to me. I know if she were here now, she would be wearing a pin. I mean, look at how many she left me!

You are safe.

I’m looking forward to giving someone a much-needed hug.