Con Artist


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Con Artist
"This excellent documentary is almost as subversive as its subject."

The idea of what separates "art" from, to put it bluntly, "arse", has a long and colourful history - and will be raising its head once again in documentary form in the upcoming Banksy film Exit Through The Gift Shop. But the concept of celebrity being as important, if not more so, than a piece of artistic undertaking is explored much more thoroughly - and more wittily - in this Stateside documentary that focuses on the artworld phenonemon that is Mark Kostabi.

The name may not sound immediately familiar, but back in the Eighties his artwork - or, rather, the artwork which he freely admitted he paid others to create - was everywhere, from the cover of Guns N Roses aptly titled Use Your Illusion to hanging on the walls in episodes of Miami Vice.

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Viewing art as nothing more than a con in itself, he declared he was the "world's greatest con artist" and employed a band of artists to both come up with the ideas for, and then paint, work that he would then sign and sell on, his dream being to create a Kostabi World Studio full of artists making artwork under his name. This, in turn, inspired a creative backlash as many on the scene viewed him as a 'contaminant', his success somehow undermining their own artistic endeavours.

Mark Sládek's entertaining and freewheeling documentary paints a vibrant and engaging profile of this king of self-publicists and walking contradiction - who, even now, is attempting to claw his way back to fame via public access TV show Title This, which allows 'celebrities' to name various pieces of his art. That's before you even consider the fact he recently completed a commission to create a bronze statue of Pope John Paul II.

Sládek neither seeks to praise or bury Kostabi, but to look at his impact and by extension to examine the commodity-fuelled nature of the Eighties artworld and culture. At the film's heart lies the paradox: how can a con artist be conning people if he is freely admitting that is what he is doing?

Featuring a cracking soundtrack from up and coming punk-fuelled New York bands that perfectly matches the craziness of the subject matter, this excellent documentary is almost as subversive as its subject.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2010
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Profile of Eighties New York art scene enfant terrible, Mark Kostabi.
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Director: Michael Sladek

Starring: Wilfredo Arias, Molly Barnes, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Behrman, Pope Benedict XVI, Victor Bockris, Mike Cockrill, Jacob Collins, Adrian Dannatt, Fabio D'Aroma

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

Exit Through The Gift Shop