Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maura Axelrod probes art and an artist in MAURIZIO CATTELAN: BE RIGHT BACK

So. Is the art of Italian bad boy Maurizio Cattelan really smart -- or more like fart? You'll can find your answer via the unusual and extremely entertaining new documentary MAURIZIO CATTELAN: BE RIGHT BACK by filmmaker Maura Axelrod. For 15 years a news/ documentary writer/producer covering the Middle East and Caribbean regions, Ms Axelrod (shown below) only more recently turned her attention to the world of contemporary art and the making of this, her first full-length documentary as director and producer.

If the lively, informative and very surprising result is any indication, this was a very good move -- for both her and her audience. After viewing this doc, the attitude of TrustMovies toward Signore Cattelan is that the guy is indeed an artist -- but also, probably first and foremost, a provocateur. There have been plenty more of these in the art world, from Warhol to Basquiat to BanksyMark Kostabi and Robert Cenedella, the subject of the recent and quite wonderful doc, Art Bastard. But given the content of Cattelan's personality and oeuvre, it's little wonder that another famous filmmaking provocateur, Paolo Sorrentino, would use one of Cattelan's most famous works (shown below) as a humdinger of an ending to his credit sequence for the recent HBO series The Young Pope.

Yours truly knew absolutely nothing about Cattelan or his work before watching Axelrod's doc, so I made, I think, a near-perfect virgin viewer/tabula rasa for her enterprise. And I was fascinated, if initially annoyed, from the first frame onward, as we learn about the artist's history, upbringing and early career as much more of a provocateur than anyone concerned with actual art. As one interviewee notes along the way, Cattelan "has dedicated his life to success in art rather than to art."

Still, god knows the art world, with its pretensions and nonsense, is always ripe for the picking, and so many of Cattelan's provocations, like the toilet above -- a shoo-in for ownership by Donald Trump -- are so much delicious, original fun that one can't help enjoying them rather immensely. (Where, in particular, the doc's interesting subtitle of "Be Right Back" comes from is one of the funniest.) And Cattelan does seem to be the darling of certain art critics -- two we hear from here are via Vogue and The New Yorker -- so, despite his seeming much more provocateur than real artist, we stick around, if only to enjoy this 90-odd minutes of fun.

We hear from the artist's former fiancee ("He taught me to think that everything is possible!") and his current girlfriend ("The first date we had was really awkward...."), from critics and friends, from gallery curators and more, as well as seeing so many of his "provocations," along with -- slowly but surely -- this guy's actual art. And just as slowly but surely, that art wins us over. The more you see of it, the better it becomes. Finally, yes, it does seem serious -- from even Cattelan's fake Flash Art issue to the sculpture (above) that is unveiled directly in front of the the Italian version of Wall Street.

Then there's his Hitler sculpture (above). Or the three hanging children (which should bring to mind everything from The Holocaust to child predators). And then, about two-thirds of the way through this oddball treat, we get something akin to "Will the real Maurizio Cattelan please stand up?"  By the time we arrive at this artist's retrospective, hosted by New York City's Guggenheim Museum, if you're not a die-hard fan (of his attitude, if not of his art itself), I'll be very surprised.

Another smart and unusual movie distributed by Bond/360, Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back opens tomorrow, Friday, April 14, in New York City at the newly renovated Quad Cinema, and in Los Angeles on May 22 at several Laemmle theaters. Elsewhere? I have no idea. And neither the film's web site nor Bond/360's provides any help.

The photo of Ms Axelrod,  shown
second from top, is by Lucian Read.

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