14 Exhilarating Art-Inspired Documentaries to Stream This Holiday Season
'Tis the season for streaming!
For the long winter nights ahead, we’ve compiled a handy list of the best art films available for convenient streaming on our favorite go-to services. From artist profiles to heists and hijinx, these documentaries—much like the art world—are often stranger than fiction.
1. Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back (2017)
This 2017 documentary co-produced by art collector Adam Lindeman and directed by Maura Axelrod is an entertaining romp with the impish artist Maurizio Cattelan, or is it? Cattelan is a notorious art-world prankster, so for the supposed “one-on-one interviews,” it’s no surprise that he has enlisted his frequent collaborator, New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni, as his stand-in. The film gives the viewer a glimpse of some of the artist’s most incendiary pieces, including footage from his recent Guggenheim retrospective.
It’s Marina Abramović, so it’s going to be…interesting. In search of personal healing and spiritual guidance, the artist travels to Brazil to meet with several (culty) faith healers. She explores sites and rituals, testing the limits of art, immateriality, and consciousness while also probing how far she is willing to go to feel healed. From what, you ask? You’ll just have to watch and find out.
3. AS IS by Nick Cave (2016)
Artist Nick Cave and director Evan Falbaum came together for 12 months of visual art exploration in Shreveport, Louisiana. In this documentary, Cave enlists the assistance of the community to help him create “As Is,” a one-time multi-media performance that transformed one small community.
4. Art and Craft (2014)
What happens when someone uses their talents for evil? Well, in the case of Mark Landis, you become one of the world’s most prolific art forgers. In this 90-minute documentary, one determined registrar goes head to head with the deviant in a game of cat and mouse. In between the scenes of exposition, get an unprecedented look at Landis’s practice, which has aided him in duping museums across the country for 30 years—until now.
5. David Lynch: The Art Life (2017)
Take a dark journey to the corners of an artist’s mind with David Lynch as your guide and subject. This neutral-hued documentary examines Lynch’s art, music, and early films, giving audiences a better understanding of not only the artist but the man.
6. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
The Chinese dissident activist and international artist Ai Weiwei is profiled in this film by American filmmaker Alison Klayman. This stirring documentary reveals a more personal side to the celebrity personality through his artwork and his social activism.
7. Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery (2014)
Sifting through the many art-based stories reported by Vanity Fair during Graydon Carter’s tenure, we rediscovered the stranger-than-fiction tale of Wolfgang Beltracchi, who along with his wife Helen, swindled the art world for more than 40 years by passing off forged masterpieces.
8. Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
By all accounts, until her death in 2009, Vivian Maier was an unassuming nanny who cared for families in Chicago and New York City throughout her life. Thanks to the efforts of directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, she is also revealed to be one of the most comprehensive and accomplished street photographers in American art history.
9. Saving Banksy (2017)
This documentary takes a deeper look, “pointedly weighing graffiti’s populist ethos against art-world profiteering,” according to the New York Times review. Banksy’s notoriously stealth artworks are the subject of many graffiti enthusiasts and commercial art collectors alike, and this film introduces viewers to characters who personify both ends of that spectrum.
10. Bill Cunningham: New York (2010)
Before the rise of bloggers and Instagram, photographer Bill Cunningham gave readers a front-row seat to the greatest catwalk: the streets of New York. Cunningham is regarded as the inventor of street style, capturing the stylish denizens of New York City, he chronicled the comings and goings of New York’s most stylish inhabitants.
11. The Queen of Versailles (2012)
At the opening of her exhibition “Generation Wealth” at the International Center of Photography this year, Lauren Greenfield told artnet News “the American dream has been corrupted from the values of hard work, frugality, thrift, and digression, to this culture of bling and narcissism and celebrity.” The film is an unvarnished look at the lives of Florida-based billionaires Jackie and David Siegel, whose success fueled by the real estate bubble threatens to come crashing down as the economy falters.
Also streaming on Netflix.
12. Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)
The ever-elusive street artist Banksy meets a French man, Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles-based Frenchman who documents underground art antics, eventually, himself becoming a cultural phenomenon—Mr. Brainwash. A must-see for every culturally savvy viewer and the only Banksy-sanctioned viewing of his (albeit hidden) visage.
Also streaming on Netflix.
13. Burden (2017)
“I didn’t want to die but I wanted to come close,” so says the late performance artist Chris Burden in his namesake documentary. Through a compilation of archival footage, art-world talking heads, and interviews with other artists, a portrait of the daredevil artist comes into view.
14. Obey Giant (2017)
Shepard Fairey is the artist behind the Obey clothing line, the “Andre the Giant has a Posse” street-art campaign, and the man who personified then-candidate Barack Obama’s campaign with the iconic “Hope” portrait. In this film, the artist speaks candidly about what inspires his art and work.
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