Films about Art III: Art and Craft
With a little bit of coffee, some pre-cut boards from Lowe’s (‘The Home Depot closed, but Lowe’s is just as good I guess.’) some coloured pencils, paint, photocopies and a priest’s outfit, you too could possibly have your artwork accepted into the collections of some the most prestigious art institutes in North America. It’s been working for Mark Landis for the past 25 years (the priest thing is new- last couple of years). He’s passed off his copies of Picassos, Watteaus, Signacs and even Charles Shultzs into the hands of curators from Illinois to California. In a lot of cases, they’re passed right back, but every once in a while they find their way in. I guess it would be hard to say ‘no’ when someone offers you something worth potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing. See that’s the catch, Mark Landis never asks for a penny; all his transactions are donations. He concocts some elaborate back story about a late sister (never existed) and exclaims that she wanted it to go to the public….. yadda yadda yadda. He has aged the pieces (that’s where the coffee comes in) and faked the providence (auction records, purchase history) and off he goes.
Mark has been copying things since he was a kid, and he’s pretty good at it. He also has a few other things going for him that enable him to be successful in his con. For starters, he is the most unassuming person you could ever encounter; no one would suspect this meek soft spoken older gentleman (sometimes priest) was up to something. The other huge factor is that when it comes to forgeries; human nature wants us to believe it’s the real thing. You would think the opposite would be true; that if something is too good to be true than it probably isn’t, but all you need are a few details that seem legit and the seeds of plausibility can grow. No one wants to pass on what could be like winning the lottery. The forger’s greatest asset is our willingness to believe. One last thing that gives Mark Landis an edge for pulling this off is his pension for mischief.
The film Art and Craft does a nice job of introducing the viewer to Mr. Landis. He lives in a small cluttered apartment that belonged to his late mother, he has dealt with mental illness his whole life and he really doesn’t reveal what his motivations are. He would rather talk about the influence old television shows and movies have had on his world view than art or trying to fool people. The forgeries are just something he likes to do while watching television and the whole act just gets him out of the house once in a while. Where the documentary falters is in the depiction of the cat and mouse game of how he was discovered and a third act where they mount an exhibit of his work. It doesn’t seem like it would have been too difficult to expose the work as fake. Mark Landis isn’t a master forger by any stretch, he painted over top of photocopies in some cases, uses distressed Walmart frames in others and if you leaned in, you could literally smell the coffee. The fascinating thing about that is: Mark Landis would be the first person to admit it. He does just enough to make it look believable a first glance but the minute you scratch the surface it falls apart.
In the end, the film’s not great but I liked spending time with Mr. Landis and I hope he never ends up in jail for his actions (because he doesn’t accept money, technically he hasn’t committed any crime) and hey, we all need hobbies.