by Rachel Willis
One part documentary, one part art piece, and one part love letter, The Proposal is an unusual film.
Visual artist and director Jill Magid has an interest in the architect Luis Barragán, particularly his professional archive, which is currently owned by the Swiss furniture company, Vitra. Overseen by Frederica Zanco, the professional collection has been withheld from the public for over twenty years.
The beginning of the film asks some interesting questions about the nature of art and ownership. Not only does Vitra own the physical archives, they also own the copyright for Barragán’s work. A photographer who has taken pictures of Barragán’s work, for example, owns the photo, but Vitra owns distribution rights. It’s a confusing legal quandary that has, in many ways, held Barragán’s work hostage.
However, rather than examine the implications of legal ownership, artistic legacy, and the ethics of corporations owning an artist’s work, Magid has a different agenda for the film.
Working on an artistic installation of her own, Magid has envisioned her entire project, including the film, as that love letter (or a proposal) to Frederica Zanco. What she wants is revealed throughout the course of the film, and her methods to entice Zanco are unorthodox. Many viewers will take issue with her tactics while others will see them as inspired. Part of the film focuses on the debate aroused by her project.
When the documentary explores the architect (Barragán) and not the artist (Magid), it’s a great film. The moments that concentrate solely on Barragán pay a stunning homage to the man and his work. However, most of the film is focused on Magid, her project and her goals, which often comes across as indulgent, sometimes even arrogant.
Though Magid claims she’s sincere in her interest in Barragán’s work and its future, it’s hard to know for sure when each moment is used as a piece in her own installation. Is the film a touching tribute to the architect and those who admire him? Or is it a marketing ploy to draw attention to the artist?
In a scene where Magid addresses Barragán’s family, we might have gained additional insight into her true intentions, but rather than allow us access to the meeting, it’s relegated to a montage. What did she say to Barragán’s family to convince them to allow her to carry out her proposal to Zanco?
The questions raised in the film have less to do with the future of Barragán’s archives and more to do with Magid’s own art, which makes The Proposal an unexpected, if not entirely interesting, film.