4 art documentaries to watch in a winter afternoon

In winter, with cold weather, snow and the foggy days, there is nothing like staying home a relaxing afternoon, while having a cup of tea under a warm blanket facing the fireplace and watching a great movie. For this reason, it is a perfect time to get some tips on great art documentaries to watch during Christmas or any rainy Sunday afternoon. 

KOYAC recommends you four documentaries that wont leave you indifferent!


The Mona Lisa Curse

This documentary, narrated and produced by Robert Hughes, probably the most famous art critic in the world, might be, because of its critical and sharp tone, one of the most polemic art documentaries ever released. 

Going back to 1965, Hughes takes the moment of when Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, was exhibited in New York for the first time, to explore what’s wrong with art and how the art market has changed in the last 50 years. Referring to the Mona Lisa, Hughes says, “People came not to look at it, but to say that they’d seen it”, as the artwork itself were a celebrity. 

With this, from the 1960’s and upwards, the art market started a process in which collectors started to buy art not because they liked it but because of its potential financial return, focusing on the novelty and trendiness instead of quality or own preferences, expecting that the new works would get more valuable in the short term. 

Taking examples such as the absurd prices of Damien Hirst’s auction or compromising conversations with supposedly great contemporary art collectors, this award-winning documentary explores how museums, art production and how we experience art have radically changed in the last decades. Consequently, it becomes also a study of the rise of the commercial art market and contemporary art. 

Be ready to be critic and to challenge your own ideas and conceptions of art.

4 art documentaries to watch in a winter afternoon

4 art documentaries to watch in a winter afternoon

Exit through the giftshop 

Supposed to be a documentary on street art, this film turns out to be a piece on Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant who owns a second hand shop in L.A that, after some events later explained, ends up mocking the art system and the street art scene.

The film has been pointed out to be a mockumentary by some critics, but Banksy, the director and street artist, has many times confirmed the movie to be real. It was released on 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Due to a chance encounter with his cousin, the street artist Space Invader, Guetta is introduced to the world of street art, getting in touch with many street artists but focusing his interest in Shepard Fairey and the anonymous Banksy. From this, he decides to produce a documentary on street art and starts filming them. Banksy sees Guetta’s initiative as a great opportunity to document what they do, so he lets him record all of the production process for his next show, “Barely Legal”. After the show’s success, which means a rise of street art prices in auction, Banksy urges Guetta to finish the documentary, “Remote control” which turns out to be a complete fail. Then Banksy encourages Guetta to make his own art show, challenge which Thierry accepts by adopting the name of “Mr. Brainwash”.

By mortgaging his business, Theirry rents equipment and a whole production team to create pieces of art under his supervision, and also invests lots of money in publicity, marketing and PR for his first show, “Life is Beautiful”, which acquires a larger scale than the one proposed by Banksy.

Getting to sell almost a million dollars during the first week and becoming a great success in terms of attendances, it is shocking to see how Guetta does not have any idea of what he wants to exhibit and a few hours before the opening there are yet no artworks hanging from the walls. So its great success is all about marketing strategy and not a real artistic purpose.

A great example of how the contemporary art market is orchestrated not always by a consistent concept and quality, but by external and frivolous factors such as publicity.

The art of the steal

This 2009 documentary, directed by Don Argott, is a great example of how art has its own long lasting history with the law, being the center of great disputes do to its value. When big sums of money are reunited in a collection, everyone wants to take its part, disrespecting its true motive and the will of the owner.

“The art of the steal” centers its attention into the controversial move of the Barnes collection, supposed to be the greatest post-impressionist art collection in the world, valued to be worth $25-billion in 2009, from Merion, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia.

When Dr Albert C. Barnes was amassing his own collection, he specifically selected where it should be displayed, in Lower Merion Township. With an already not so good relationship with philadelphians when he was alive, Dr Barnes established his foundation under very strict rules of never moving the collection or any of its artworks to any other location, and to always serve as an art, art criticism and art appreciation school, not as a museum open to the public.  

A decades-long process was initiated by philadelphians in order to acquire the collection and remove it from its original location. Such a valuable collection would be a great claim for tourists in Philadelphia, so they could not miss the chance.

This documentary narrates the claimed breaking of Barne’s will, that already started while Dr Albert C. Barnes was alive, (he died in 1951), and that was continued by their heirs for decades until the philadelphians, after some suspicious legal practices, won the battle moving the whole collection to a new building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia in 2012.

4 art documentaries to watch in a winter afternoon

4 art documentaries to watch in a winter afternoon

Here is always somewhere else: the story of Bas Jan Ader

This documentary is, compared to the other three here presented, pure magic and beauty, a great dose of sensitivity and elegance. Far from being a critical film, “Here is always somewhere else”, directed by Rene Daalder in 2007, is a beautifully built narration of the life of Dutch/Californian conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975 under mysterious circumstances.

Ader, who disappeared at the young age of 33 years old, left behind a small but very significant body of performative works, as well as some photography and conceptual artworks. In 1975, due to an existential flu, Bas Jan Ader, who had been an accomplished sailor, resolved to cross the ocean from the US back to Europe in the smallest boat ever to cross the Atlantic, carrying with him a copy of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, as a third part of a larger performative art piece. Months later, his boat was found in the Irish coast, but never heard from him again.

The film, exploring Aders disappearance and going through his body of work, becomes a deep overview of contemporary art films scene as well as an epic saga of the transformative powers of the ocean, in which many of the greatest performative artists of our time are featured, such as Tacita Dean, Rodney Graham, Marcel Broodthaers, Ger van Elk, Charles Ray, Wim T. Schippers, Chris Burden, Fiona Tan, Pipilotti Rist and others.

The unresolved nature of his disappearance, reinforced by a very valuable artistic legacy, drives Daalder to attempt to reconnect the dots of Ader’s character and story, resulting in a powerful film full of meaning.

You may also be interested in

The most anticipated openings for art lovers in 2020
Art Basel Miami: the evolution of the contemporary art universe

We request your permission to obtain statistics from your navigation through this website. If you stay on this website we understand that you accept the use of cookies. 

OK | More information