The documentary, “Art And Craft” is a fascinating head-scratcher. The film follows professed art forger, Mark Landis, whose talents in painting (or “copying” as Landis says) has been duping art museums around the country for 30 years. So how is he not a convicted criminal? Landis doesn’t sell these works; he donates them to the museums. He’s not profiting (that would be a crime). It’s up to the museums to deduce what they want to do with donations, and whether they are lax in their due diligence.
But more than this sensational premise, “Art And Craft” is really a study of mental health, obsessions, a craving for respect and kindness, and the art world’s appetite to score a classic painting. With smart handling by filmmakers, Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and co-director/editor Mark Becker, “Art And Craft” treats the subject matter and individuals with care, especially Landis, who viewers come to discover is a fragile, lonely character, who uses his “philanthropic talents” to give his life a sense of purpose.
The son of a naval officer and wife, Landis moved often and took up copying artworks as a youngster. He also suffered from mental illness and breakdowns, especially after his father died of cancer when he was 17. Later, Landis studied photography at the Chicago Art Institute and San Francisco Art Institute. Landis claims that once he learned the photographic process, he didn’t have a single idea what to shoot. But the art of copying – that was something that Landis excelled in.
Enter art registrar Matthew Leininger. Working at art museums in Oklahoma and Cincinnati, Leininger was the first to realize that a donated artwork from Landis existed in three other museums. Leininger was intent on discovering if more donated pieces were forgeries – there were many more. He becomes obsessed, with a capital “O,” with educating the art world and public about philanthropic forger, Mark Landis.
With interviews from curators, art council members, journalists, and FBI Art Crime Team member, Robert Wittman, the documentary dives into the art world, philanthropy, and forgeries. But more successfully it explores the psyches of Mark Landis and Matthew Leininger. Both men give the film its soul with their individual life purposes, even if on opposite sides of art forgery.
Without a doubt, “Art And Craft” is one of the most uniquely compelling art world stories in recent times. The film opens September 26th for an exclusive two-week engagement at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles. In addition, as a filmmaker event, on Friday, September 26 and Saturday, September 27, director Jennifer Grausman will appear in person at the 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. showings. For more information visit Landmark/Nuart Theatres.