Review: 'Art and Craft'


[vc_row][vc_column width="2/3"][vc_column_text disable_pattern="true" align="left" margin_bottom="0"]2014 has been a good year for documentaries about reproduced art. First we had Tim’s Vermeer, a charming (and oft-pretentious) look at an inventor obsessed with reproducing a painting by Johannes Vermeer. And now there’s Art and Craft, the story of famed art forger Mark Landis and the people whose lives have been impacted by his expertly created fakes.

Landis is a man in his late 50s with a history of mental illness who spends his free time copying works of art and donating them to various museums around the United States. In doing so he’s committing no crimes (the museums themselves should be confirming the art’s legitimacy) but he still uses false identities and made-up stories about nonexistent family members to justify what he calls his “philanthropy.” Not to mention the occasional a sip of booze before each donation to get his courage up.

On the other end of the spectrum is Matt Leininger, the former registrar at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art who’s hell-bent on taking Landis down, whatever that means. Leininger and his museum were fooled once by Landis and he’s become certifiably obsessed with the master forger; he seems to have lost his job due to said obsession and now spends his days drumming up press interest in Landis’s endeavors and plotting some sort of punishment for the man’s crimes against the art community. He also occasionally asks his daughter to identify photos of Landis on-camera, which doesn’t help his case for full sanity.

Directors Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker smartly eschew any narrative-propelling voiceover, instead allowing a comprehensive amount of “behind the scenes” footage to provide insight into the psyche of these two men: Landis claims to have long admired the praise and esteem laid at the feet of wealthy art collectors who ferry masterpieces from one gallery to another, and Leininger seems unable to accept blame for his own failures. No judgment is passed by the filmmakers; they allow us to make our own.

Art and Craft builds to an extremely satisfying “confrontation” between the two at an exhibit of Landis’s work in Cincinnati. Yes, an exhibit of his fakes, apparently meant to illuminate the ethical quandaries they create. The trio of directors milk a palpable tension in the days, hours and minutes leading up to their meeting; Landis radiates quiet nervousness as he makes his way to the event, but not because he’s about to confront some of the professionals he’s duped. In fact, he seems to absentmindedly ignore anyone who isn’t an art student or potential admirer. Meanwhile, Leininger seems to be expecting some sort of gun-slinging showdown a la Tombstone, either completely unaware of Landis’s subdued temperament or purposely falsifying a potential heroic confrontation to soothe his tortured mind.

One is an old man with limited access to the outside world who’s looking for a way to affirm his skills and perhaps also pay tribute to a long-dead mother. The other is a sort of art cop who was duped and refuses to move on. They both exude sadness, but there’s a sense that speaking publicly about their situations (and, on Leininger’s end, seeing what state Landis is in) may provide a little bit of peace.

Landis has been exposed before in articles published in the Financial Times and the New York Times, but his story could not be told in full without this accompanying audiovisual element. It exposes a dry wit and an unexpected ability to banter with strangers, but also an inability to accept the consequences for his actions; when asked why he makes copies instead of working on his own art, he calls the forgeries his “arts and crafts” that he works on in front of the TV. And the bulk of the footage we see is indeed of Landis sitting quietly in front of his television, brilliantly turning photocopies into masterpieces.

He clearly understands what he’s doing, but produces them in a sad, resigned, almost workmanlike way. It’s astounding that this is the mastermind who has befuddled museum directors all over the country. But then again, maybe it’s not. His intentions are both simple and difficult to decipher, and he wants nothing in return for his deceptions. He’s truly unique, and worthy of this deep examination.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_column_text disable_pattern="true" align="left" margin_bottom="0"][mk_fancy_title tag_name="h2" style="true" color="#393836" size="14" font_weight="inhert" margin_top="0" margin_bottom="18" font_family="none" align="left"]Details:[/mk_fancy_title]

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  • Directed by: Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker
  • Runtime: 89 minutes
  • Release date: October 3, 2014


[mk_fancy_title tag_name="h2" style="true" color="#393836" size="14" font_weight="inhert" margin_top="0" margin_bottom="18" font_family="none" align="left"]More reviews from this author:[/mk_fancy_title]

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