CINEMA: Even Better Than The Real Thing



Art And Craft, which opens at the Ritz At The Bourse on tomorrow,  follows the monkeyshines of eccentric self-described “philanthropist” and “art collector” Mark Landis, who donates famous works from his collection to museums around the country that could never afford to purchase them. Unbeknownst to the museums is the fact that all the works are actually forgeries — forgeries Landis created with his own two hands. In fact, Landis is considered the most prolific art forger of all time. Eventually Matthew Leininger, then a staffer at the Cincinnati Museum Of Art,  discovers the ruse and begins tracking Landis and warning museums nationwide about the forgeries. What makes this documentary so captivating is its investigation into the past and present lives of Landis and the amoral way Landis’ fraud is portrayed.  Landis is portrayed as neither hero nor villain but rather a lonely man, going to therapy and mourning the loss of his mother. Watching Landis do ordinary tasks becomes interesting because of his distinctive persona. In one scene we watch him dress up like a priest and drive his Cadillac to donate a piece of forged art to yet another grateful and unsuspecting tertiary market museum, and, if we’re being honest, we find it somewhat thrilling to be in on the scam.  Or when he paints a Picasso while a black and white movie plays in the background of the hoarder’s nest he calls home.  If you didn’t know better, you’d swear Landis’ story must be an invention of fiction, which makes this completely true story all the more comical and absurd. Art and Craft doesn’t really take you on a journey that leads to the palace of wisdom or hand you a neatly tied box with a lesson, but it makes for compelling viewing  because of the quaint absurdity of its subject. Landis isn’t in it for the money, he never asks the museums for a dime, so what he is doing is technically not illegal. But is it wrong? The film leaves that up to the viewer, and like beauty, morality is in the eye of the beholder. Mark Landis is a lonely old man who likes to see his art hanging in museums and knowing they’re not the real thing. The art of the deception is what appeals to Landis and to be honest, who doesn’t want to see a lonely old man fool a few bougie art curators? — MOLLY KASSEL