"The art world is a strange place," says the former head of the FBI's art crime team in the documentary Art and Craft. He, of all people, should know. But the fascinating tale of master forger Mark Landis is especially bizarre, mostly because it doesn't involve the commission of a crime.
Landis, a 59-year-old living in Laurel, Mississippi, doesn't cut a compelling figure. But this small, stoop-shouldered, bald-headed man who barely moves his mouth when he speaks has copied works by artists ranging from Picasso to Dr. Seuss. Instead of pawning them off for cash, he donated them to more than 45 museums in 20 mostly Southern states, all of whom thought they were receiving the originals.
The absurdities and inefficiencies of the art-world establishment have been covered in documentaries such as F For Fake, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollcok and My Kid Could Paint That. The reputation of appraisers isn't exactly restored by Art and Craft.
Landis demonstrates how, for example, a Picasso can be approximated—using little more than a photocopier, some Elmer's glue, and a piece of coffee-stained wooden backing—well enough to fool a supposed expert into accepting it as genuine.
Landis never tries to make a dime off his fakes, and his motivation is obscure at best. He suffers from some level of mental illness, having been diagnosed as schizophrenic at a young age, and seems more medicated in some scenes of the documentary than others. He's a legitimate talent trapped in a psyche that won't let his creativity fully express itself. "I guess I just got addicted to philanthropy," is the closest he comes to explaining himself.
Little of that matters to Matthew Leininger, the Cincinnati museum registrar who was the first to ferret out Landis' deceptions and who became obsessed with exposing them, even if it meant embarrassing his employer and other institutions that had been duped. Even Leininger, though, doesn't hold much of a grudge against this eccentric, meek figure who's slightly less intimidating than Mr. Magoo.
Art isn't the only thing Landis copies. An avid viewer of old films and TV shows, he makes frequent reference to programs like Roger Moore's "The Saint" or the 1966 caper film "Gambit." At one point, he quips, "Necessity may be the mother of invention, but sometimes it's the stepmother of deception." Even that's not original: He cribbed it from an old Charlie Chan movie.
Art and Craft
Dir. Sam Cullman
Through Sun., Nov. 23
Tues. & Thurs. 5:30 pm, Fri. & Sat. 3:45 pm, Sun. 2:45 pm
Tin Pan Theater, 869 NW Tin Pan Alley