7 Documentaries That Give the Finger to the Art World

By  · Published on September 23rd, 2014

Producers Distribution Agency

Documentary cinema has a lot of stories about the art world. It’s not surprising, really. Readings or lectures about art can be tedious to the average viewer, and fiction film often has trouble jazzing up the subject, but the standard model of doc filmmaking is ideal for conveying facts and concepts while keeping the audience engaged. Still, such films usually struggle to attract an audience, and it’s not hard to figure out why – art is usually seen as a stodgy field, fit only for snobs. And given how deep the ties run between fine art and the whims of the upper class, this is not an entirely unreasonable stereotype.

This makes it particularly funny when someone comes along to upset the fruit cart. Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman’s new film, Art and Craft, demonstrates what happened when museums discovered one forger who only donated and never sold his fakes. In that spirit of rabble-rousing, here are a few more that come in a similar vein. These are films that refuse to play by the art world’s rules. In one way or another (and sometimes unintentionally!), they lay bare the eccentricities and hypocrisies that fuel this sheltered sphere of rich collectors and stodgy institutions.

F for Fake (1974)

One of Orson Welles’s last projects, this freewheeling cinematic essay starts as an interrogation of famed forger Elmyr de Hory’s career before spiraling off into various explorations of the nature of art and authenticity. Welles is keeping company with a host of other “fakers,” mainly his fellow actors and directors, suggesting that there’s not too much of a difference between deception and “real” art. Besides de Hory, Clifford Irving, another huckster who embarrassed the elites (and author of the infamous fake Howard Hughes biography), talks about his craft. And de Hory points out that the art dealers he worked with gouged a lot more out of people than he ever did – the cancer is within these institutions, not outside it.