A friend recently posted a question on Facebook asking friends to share their suggestions for great documentaries. The first few movies to fill my head were all documentaries about the art world. Of course I made a note to myself to come up with a list of movies and documentaries one should watch to learn about good art. I fell in love with such artists as Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse and Klimt at a young age. And it’s all due to the public school systems great effort to bring art to children. This was 30 years ago. Starting out, I was obsessed with Reniors ballerina’s. As I grew older and my art education grew immensely. I began to study such era’s as the WPA movement across America, the DaDa movement in Europe and Abstract Expressionism. Over my 20’s my love for art grew greatly with the creation of some amazing films that have really become a staple in the art world. This list is made up of films about artists and movements but more importantly great art collectors and the people who brought art to the masses, the curators.
Let us begin………..
15. Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict
I thought I knew everything about Peggy Guggenheim as the art collector but I was so ill informed. This film is glimpse into one of the most iconic families in American History, while it highlights her many friendships and lovers in the art world. What makes the movie more powerful is the sad story of her daughter. The only thing truly missing from this film were the female friendships that Peggy had through out her life. In a way, it does paint her as man hungry.
14. Woman in Gold
This film is based on the amazing court battle for the restoration rights of several Gustav Klimt paintings once owned by the Bloch-Bauer family. I ran across an article on Maria Altmann's fight in the early 2000’s. I love this movie and I was supper excited to see this powerfully amazing story finally put to film. So now its out there to teach people and remind the many who wish to forget. The only thing I wish the movie could have spent more time, were on Maria’s flashbacks. I also think adding the story that her husband was sent to a concentration camp in order to get his brother to sign over his textile company to the nazi’s would have been great story arch. Actors Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren give amazing performances in this film but the real shining performance belongs to Tatiana Mislay (from the TV show Orphan Black). Her portrayal of a young Marie Altmann is the true highlight of the movie.
13. Mr. Turner
This OSCAR nominated film is a hidden gem from the 2014 award season. A dramatic portrait of J.M.W. Turner’s long life staring the amazing Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, “Blandings”). A tale of a man lost in his journey to find the perfect scene while fighting the confines of being accepted by the establishment. The scenery or art direction in the film was stunning and today reminds me of the direction seen in The Danish Girl. Oddly enough I saw an article where Cinematographer Danny Cohen (The Danish Girl) found inspiration from Dick Pope’s work in Mr. Turner.
12. Great Expectations
This poor movie has had a rough fight to being taken seriously when it came out. Mainly because of the acting caliber in the film is all over the place. This 1998 version of the Charles Dickens Classic was directed by one of my all time favorite directors, Alfonso Cuarón. A dark, broody, modern setting to a classic that was originally set in the 18th century. I fell in love with this film because Cuarón’s vision was to make Finn a talented painter but chose to have the amazing Francisco Clemente to be the ghost painter in the film. Stunning work that gives the story dramatic twist.
11. The Rape of Europa
Yes you are going to cry but this movie needed to be made. So many artists lost their lives or lost decade or lifetime of their works destroyed. Reminding ourselves of the great travesties of WWII are important but seeing the all those amazing piece over and over again are refreshing to know there are some images of these pieces of history.
10. Gerhard Richter Painting
Word just cannot describe the genuis of Gerhard Richter. Enough said!
9. Picasso and Braque: Go To The Movies
One of the staples in studying the Fauvism movement is George Braque’s strong friendship and collaboration with Pablo Picasso. The director draws the line between their relationship with the dawn of the motion picture era. Director Martin Scorsese & and artist Julian Schnabel join a large number of historians who bring great insight to how this duo changed the world of art with the birth of Cubism and broadening the eye to create a new modern era of art.
8. Outside In: The Story of Art in the Streets
A film that follows the birth of LA’s Museum of Contemporary of Art iconic Art in the Street exhibition. A show taking iconic street artist as Space Invader, Shepard Fairey, Futura, Banksy and the amazing Martha Cooper’s who brought street art to the masses. Growing up I loathed street art but I was lucky enough to meet Shepard Fairey back in my college years in Providence. A series of conversations about his artwork and the street movement opened my eye greatly. This film draws the line in history defining street art versus gang tagging If you feel all tagging is vandalism, I recommend you watch this movie.
7. Joan Mitchell: Portrait of an Artist
Joan Mitchell is probably one of the most iconic and substantive female artists in history. In my studies of the WPA period, her body of work signified not just birth of a strong female movement in art but it also shaped a new chapter in abstract expressionism. The first Joan Mitchell I ever saw in person was at the Circle Gallery on Mainden Lane when I was kid. My parents brought us to the city to window shop in the 80’s and I begged to go into the gallery. Many think its just scratches on a canvas but her use of color that is what gets to you at first. I read in a book somewhere about how Joan used color in reference to the alphabet. I struggle to understand what that meant until I saw this documentary in my freshman year in college New York City.
6. The Great Museum
This film follows the rebirth of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna back 2012. A change of new leadership along with modernization of a museum that was established as early as 1872. While the movie is almost all in subtitles, the cast of characters that make up this great museum is addictive. For example, one worker lays out double cream cheese, walnuts and bread, not for the staff but the for the pigeons who congregate on the window ledge outside of the staff break room. The movie travels from many sections of the museum, from the front to the deep burrows of the museums great collection. I’ve been teaching myself over the years about how to manage and care for our collection properly and this film made my eye open wider. I have a lot more to learn. If you want to just delve into the world great art, each scene is not only a little bit of education but so many surprises, especially when the camera is allowed to film the racks in the collection storage. Overtime those racks were rolled out my eyes just light up. Another interesting segment is the cataloging and imaging of the Coronation Gospel which has crimson pages which cannot be displayed, so the Museum digitized the whole book to be placed online for the public to view.
5. Painters Painting
Filmed in the early 1970’s, I was lucky enough to watch this amazing documentary on the artists that helped define the abstract expressionism movement, in a junior high school art class. We watched this movie over 3-4 classes and I fell in love with artists like Frankenthaler, de Kooning & Clifford Still. The film is a series of interviews with many great artists along with several studio visits. One of the key moments in this film is a glimpse into Bernard Newman’s studio after his death. Another highlight is the great interview with gallery owner Leo Castelli, who truly was the godfather of this era of art. What I love about this film is how the artists give us inside look to their techniques and philosophy of their work.
4. Who Get’s To Call it Art?
There are many great museum curators through out history but I think that Henry Geldzahler takes the cake. In nutshell, the documentary is about the amazing career of Henry Geldzahler and how he brought contemporary art into the starched world of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met’s collection prior to the 1960’s was mostly dated prior to the 1940’s. Pop Art was ugly and had no place in the walls of The Met. Henry broke down the doors and brought Pop Art into the MET and gave it definition with it’s roots heavily waited in Abstract Expressionism and Cubism. The movie shares interviews of Henry one on one or during speaking engagements. This movie is a great way to expose yourself to artists like Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and George Segal. The thrill of the movie Geldzahler’s final chapter discovering such artists as Herring, Clemente, Basquet and Schnabel.
3. The Cool School
The LA Art scene truly found its birth in the late 50’s. This film which highlights the careers of such artists as Ed Ruscha, John Baldassari, Robert Irwin and Ed Moses. Finds the roots of the LA Art movement at the Ferus Gallery. One of my favorite highlights of this movie is the great collector and curator Walter Hopps who I read about many times through my college years. The film is a product of interviews done in the 2000’s. One of the great highlights includes an interview with Sonia Gechtoff reminisce of Hopps rough handling of his artists. I fell in love with Sonia’s work when I saw a piece of hers at featured exhibit at California Museumin Oakland back in the 80’s. It was a show featuring artists who found their voice during the 50’s and 60’s in the budding California art world.
2. The Art of the Steal
This sad but brilliant movie is just a symbol how the mighty dollar rules the world even when you are dead and in the ground. Alfred Barnes invented a silver nitrate treatment for ganarrohea in 1901 and became insanely rich. In 1910 Barnes caught the collecting buy and amassed the largest post-impressionist private collection in history. The documentary follows the his collections birth and his nurturing relationship with Gertrude Stein and her brothers. Back home, Barnes turned his home into a museum showcase his artwork in his interpretation of Stein’s salon style hanging method and after his death his will was built to keep the museum intact and the story takes a new turn when his arch-rival makes it his mission to destroy the collection by getting it out of the Barnes Museum and into his museum. This movie is heartbreaking but provides so much insight into the world of Art and how art continues when it owners are no more.
1. Herb & Dorothy (Herb & Dorothy 50x50)
A love story wrapped up in the blossoming and inner workings of the Abstract Impressionist movement. The love story begins with the first date of librarian and a postal worker, which would create one of the most prolific collector duo’s in American history. Herb & Dorothy Vogel’s adventure into the art world built some of the most amazing opportunities to create longtime friendships with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. The movie details these friendships and the lifetime of their collection. The reason why I fell hard for this movie was because they collected the art they fell in love with and not because it’s going be a long term investment. The same reason why I started collecting art in 1999. The sequel 50x50 is a continuation of their story but highlighting how after they donated their entire collection (4,782 works of art in 2006) to the National Gallery in D.C. The museum couldn’t handle the large collection so they create the 50 Works of Art to 50 States.
Just Like Being There
In 1996, Clem and I did a road trip from Eugene all the way up to Vancouver and Tofino to hunt for a destination wedding location. Of course we had to stop at Powell’s Book in PDX and we were introduced to the world of GIG-Posters as an art form and adventure in find new artists richly soaked in this culture. The bookshop has a gallery space on the top level and they were showing a solo show by east coast artist Dan McCarthy. Now twenty years later, our collection has almost 100 screen-prints. Some of the artists we’ve collected over the past 20 years are featured in this great indi-style, like McCarthy, Daniel Danger and Ryan Duggan. The movie is a great introduction to the world of screen printing.
Phillip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect
This documentary is honestly not a art doc per say but the look into Philip Johnson’s Glass House property is one of the greatest canvases in America. Johnson is one the most prolific modern architects of the 20th century. The film is a guided tour by Johnson of his home in New Caanan, Connecticut and how his personal home of the Glass House built in 1949 grew to an amazing artistic compound. I am adding this doc to the list because the painting gallery is the most amazing building on the compound. The collection Johnson and his partner David Whitney had collected over the relationship is just as equally amazing. Plus it’s entertaining to see Johnson & Whitney’s interactions through out the film.
PS. See if you can figure out which two movies we helped fund. It’s kind of fun to see you name up on a big screen.