Tag Archives: art documentaries

Do You Want to Buy a Snowball?

The Melt Goes On Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons

by Hope Madden

In 1983, a woman buys a snowball from a street vendor. He has many snowballs laid out in a beautiful pattern on a blanket on a wintery New York street, surrounded by other vendors. She thinks she’s helping a homeless man but keeps the snowball in her parents’ freezer in Queens for months before letting her mom toss it.

Decades later she realizes the seller was David Hammons, an American artist who defied boundaries, mocked socially accepted practice, and became one of the most influential voices in art.

I bet she wishes she’d kept the snowball.

Documentarians Harold Crooks and Judd Tully share countless similar anecdotes as they unveil, layer upon layer, something of what Hammons meant to an art world desperately in need of him.

“The more he tells the art world to go fuck itself, the more they want him,” says poet Steve Cannon, whose poem “Rousing the Rubble” offers worthy narration to sections of the film. An ode to Hammons, the poem announces the artist’s many phases, as does the documentary:

            Booomboxes, into bebop, hip hop, scatter shots – lower poles Higher Goals –

            into human hair – into Bottle caps into people and their attributes ­–

Cannon’s interviews, as well as those with art historians, artists, curators and collectors, will have to mainly suffice. Although Hammons himself does appear and speak on a handful of rare occasions, his voice is mainly absent (he prefers not to be interviewed, the doc clarifies).

Those who do talk illuminate the spirit of an artist whose work defies categorization. That work, luckily, we do get to view throughout the film. Provocative, racial, absurd, prescient – the art itself is all of this, and the film points to Hammons’s rejection of the norms of the art world as among his most valuable qualities.

The Melt Goes On Forever celebrates the audacity of Hammons’s  curation, the subversive nature of his exhibition and the humor in his reactions and presentations, but is quick to point out that his lasting impact on art in the U.S. and globally is more a product of the intensity and relevance of the work itself.

The Melt Goes On Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons screens this weekend only at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Paint, by the Numbers

The Lost Leonardo

by George Wolf

In 2005, a “sleeper hunter” looking for undervalued art made a pretty good call when he bought a work at a New Orleans auction for $1,175. Twelve years later, that painting sold for a record-setting $450 million.

What happened in between is a real world mystery, one that The Last Leonardo unveils like a globe-trotting thriller to deliver a completely spellbinding ride. Full of amazing discoveries, dangerous despots, faith, doubt, economics and greed, it’s a behind-the-brush account of “the most improbable story in the art market.”

Only 15 Da Vinci works were known to exist before that Louisiana find, and none had been discovered for over a century. Could that Big Easy bargain actually be the 16th, an early 1500s work entitled Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World)? Plenty of important voices in the art world say yes. Others say there’s a better chance of finding aliens landing in your front yard. And some can’t make up their minds about the painting.

Oh, and nobody seems to know where it went.

Director and co-writer Andreas Koefoed weaves the layers of this tale together with a damn fine sense of artistry himself. He quickly shapes the backstory with a hook irresistible to even an art history novice, then keeps a steady pace of twists and revelations to rival the most delicious true crime sensations.

Koefoed mixes first-person interviews with jet-setting locales, and stylish art restoration technology with political intrigue. His sense of timing is sharp as well, knowing just when to spotlight the accusation that with a question this large and an answer so potentially valuable, “opinions matter more than facts.”

Because by the time the film enters its third act, Koefoed’s meticulous approach – paired with the refreshing honesty of many of the players involved – has seamlessly shown how the process moves past art, and even commerce, to settle comfortably on power.

And much like the treasures waiting beneath centuries of brushstrokes, the brisk 96 minutes of The Lost Leonardo also manage to transcend the galleries and auction houses to speak more universally on how this global brokerage network flourishes largely out of the spotlight.

But don’t be scared off by the whiff of stuffy art house pretension, this is also a damn fine piece of entertainment. I mean, all due respect to GD National Treasure Tom Hanks, but here’s a Da Vinci mystery that’s suitable for framing.

What’s In a Name?

Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker

by Hope Madden

Maybe you don’t know who David Wojnarowicz is. Maybe you have no idea how to pronounce his name. It might be safer to butcher the provocative late artist’s last name (voy-nah-ROYH-vitch) than to read the title of director Chris McKim’s documentary aloud—Wojnarowicz: F**k You F*ggot F**ker.

It doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as you see it.

The film primarily uses Wojnarowicz’s own recordings, photos and paintings to let him tell his story. A profound influence on New York’s art scene in the 1980s and into the ‘90s, the multimedia artist’s work delivered among the earliest and most startling images of queer art in the city.

McKim had a lot to work with. Wojnarowicz made hundreds of audio cassettes, recording his thoughts in a sometimes wounded monotone. The stream of conscious monologues often dip into the outright poetic and create a poignant soundtrack for the life and work on display.

The documentarian does enlist some additional voices, including friend Fran Lebowitz and frequent collaborator Marion Schemama, but relies mainly on Wojnarowicz’s own visuals to create the sense of isolation, alienation and anger that fueled much of his work.

Wojnarowicz and his work, as well as his death, became a focal point of the mishandled AIDS epidemic that scars the politics and history of the 1980s.

In much the way Wojnarowicz’s work reflected his hellish upbringing and time on the streets, McKim’s film contextualizes the artist among that which he influenced: a city, a movement, a scene, politics, and other artists.

As is crucial in a doc about a visual artist, the screen is routinely filled to brimming with Wojnarowicz’s creations. Powerful, inflammatory, sexually explicit and unmistakably challenging, the work itself looms large in the documentary as if to ensure that it reaches out to as many as possible who forgot, never knew, or may have been kept from it.