A documentary on art superstar Julian Schnabel is one of the films screening this April.
Photo: Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival Spotlights the Art World

These six art-focused films are not to be missed

One of the more intriguing themes at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, taking place in New York City April 19 through 30, is the strong contingent of films by or about visual artists. The roster includes a documentary on art superstar Julian Schnabel; a biopic of the poster boy of homoerotic iconography, the artist Tom of Finland; and a corrosive look at art’s entanglement with money, featuring performance artist Marina Abramović weighing in with her two cents.

Is popular culture getting more interested in art? Not quite, says Rafer Guzman, a film critic for Newsday and WNYC radio. “What you are seeing is a boom in documentaries,” he notes. “Streaming services are making these films easier to watch, so you don’t have to head to an art house movie theater.”

Artist Laurie Simmons, whose fictional film My Art premieres at the festival, tells Galerie she hopes that her film and others in the festival “demystify the process” of being an artist, noting that “artists are never accurately portrayed in the movies.” Hollywood often presents artists as “overwrought and erratic,” she adds, though she feels that the Tribeca Film Festival, with its close ties to the art community, is more likely to showcase films that get it right.

These six art-focused films at the festival do just that.

Julian Schnabel: A Private Portrait, a documentary by writer and director Pappi Corsicato, premieres at the festival. Schnabel is interviewed at length, as are family members, his onetime gallerist Mary Boone, and artists and actors he’s worked with, including Jeff Koons, Al Pacino, and Javier Bardem. Cosicato’s sweeping look at Schnabel covers decades of his life—from his small-town Texas childhood through to his rise in fame—both in the art world and in Hollywood.

Still from Tom of Finland.

The biopic Tom of Finland, directed by Dome Karukoski and written by Aleksi Bardy, follows the cult erotic Finnish artist (real name Touko Laaksonen) from his time in the army during World War II to his move to “dazzling Los Angeles in time for the sexual revolution and its aftermath,” as the film’s press release puts it. Today, it’s a given that his explicit drawings of mid-coitus leather-clad bikers and muscular laborers had a tremendous impact on the history of gay art. The movie is in Finnish with subtitles, though the language of the artist’s raunchy and indelible images needs no translation.

Still from My Art.

My Art is written and directed by Laurie Simmons, the “Pictures Generation” artist whose striking images of dolls established her career. Simmons also stars in the film, in which she plays Ellie, a late-blooming artist in her 60s who feels stifled by her art practice. In an attempt to reinvigorate her life, she leaves New York with her dog, Bing, and heads upstate. The fine cast includes Simmons’s daughter, Girls actress Lena Dunham, who makes a brief appearance, as well as Robert Clohessy, John Rothman, Josh Safdie, Parker Posey, and Blair Brown. While fictional, the film cleverly incorporates elements of Simmons’s own life.

Still from Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World.

Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World, by director Barry Avrich is a searing indictment of the art world. Avrich, not one to protect sacred cows, previously directed an unauthorized Harvey Weinstein biopic and Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story, along with several adaptations of Shakespeare plays. The film’s press release brags that thanks to his extraordinary access to industry players and candid statements from prominent artists, Avrich has created a movie thatcollides the two narratives of the art world as both above and beholden to market forces.”

Still from Manifesto. 

Directed and written by German artist and filmmaker Julian Rosefeldt, Manifesto stars Cate Blanchett as 13 different characters, each espousing a famed art manifesto, penned by thinkers ranging from Karl Marx to Claes Oldenburg. The captivating film was screened, in a site-specific multiple-screen installation, at the Park Avenue Armory earlier this year.

Still from Shadowman. 

Richard Hambleton, a pioneer street artist, finally gets his due with the premiere of Shadowman, directed and written by Oren Jacoby. Decades before Banksy, Hambleton marked New York (and, later, the Berlin Wall) with his striking blacked-out silhouettes against skyscrapers. The film is being touted as both a redemption story and “a time capsule of a forgotten New York City era.”

Tickets to the festival are now on sale at tribecafilm.com. 

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