Art/ifice in Marwencol and Art and Craft

by criticalhit009

I recently viewed Art and Craft (2014), a documentary about Mark Landis, one of the most prolific art forgers in US history. It also heavily reminded me of Marwencol (2010), a documentary about Mark Hogancamp, a man expelling his trama through photographs of WWII figures. Both films are about mentally distressed men making art. They both have curious relationships with women, Mark L. with his mother, Mark H. with the women in his town. (Freud would have a field day.) Whereas Landis travels around the country donating/duping museums into accepting his works as authentic, Hogancamp remains in his small town.

They both create art that imitates. For Hogancamp, the stories he enacts through the figures are a means of expressing his trauma, and converting real life into understandable narratives. For Landis, his art imitates other works that the border between original and copy degrades to an alarming degree for the art world. Of course, by the end of each documentary, both artists get their own exhibition.

What do these films say about the art world? They illustrate that art can come from anywhere. Landis’ work is transgressive, and gets us thinking about the nature of the author. How does authorial intent work in a postmodern age? He is also fascinating for his totally absorption of pop culture. He loves television, though he himself has trouble actually espousing emotions. He models his life after the television shows (and films) he imbibes. He is a copy who makes copies. And yet the plethora of copies does not devalue the work, but seems to increase it.

Hogancamp’s work also turns to a postmodern bent. By the end of the film, we find his figurines taking photos of other figures, processing their own trauma through art. His photographs are wonderfully alive, bringing a sense of vitality and grandeur rarely seen with plastic.

These are two great films that get us thinking about art. Both documentaries are excellent. Marwencol is on netflix now, while Art and Craft is currently rounding the indie scene.