The documentary feature “ART AND CRAFT,” which was codirected by Sam Cullman and Jen Grausman, follows the story of American painter Mark Landis, who was exposed in 2008 for producing forgeries of famous artworks.
Since he donated the pieces to more than 45 museums, technically he has not committed any crime. Landis is a complicated and endearing character. He suffers from schizophrenia and views himself as a philanthropist.
The film has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. In addition to its theatrical run, it was recently released digitally. We spoke with the directors, who shared their take on this riveting story.
How did you persuade Landis to be in the film?
When we were first exposed to Mark Landis’ story, we imagined he might not be the most forthcoming subject. His exposure was still unfolding and it seemed certain that a man in his position would never share his secrets or tricks. But from our very first conversations and through to completion of the film, Landis proved surprisingly open and transparent.
After first spending some number of hours on the phone getting to know each other, we sent Landis DVDs of our past works so he could vet us. It turns out that in addition to his deep knowledge about art and art history, Landis is also a huge movie buff. Soon thereafter, he invited us down to Mississippi to start filming. On the first shoot, Landis gave us a major interview and we also filmed him buying art supplies and later making forgeries. By the second visit, we were filming him giving them away as a “philanthropist.”
In retrospect, Landis’ openness to the film and our endless inquiries about his past, his process, and his complex motivations make perfect sense. Diagnosed as a teenager with schizophrenia and multiple behavioural disorders, in the 1970s, Landis had endured a lifetime of marginalization as a person living with mental illness. In many ways, his 30-year con had become a means to change all that, to connect with the world, in control and on his own terms. We were an extension of that process, and Landis eagerly welcomed our company and the opportunity to tell his story.
If he had sold his pieces, how much would they be worth?
It’s hard to imagine what Landis’ fakes would be worth if sold or auctioned off as the real thing. Over his 30-year “career,” he knocked off an amazing range of artists and styles that includes 15th-century religious icons, Picasso, and even Walt Disney-animation cells.
And even if we could estimate the perceived value of these objects, Landis was a notoriously bad record keeper, and to this day we still don’t know how many works he has made overall. We do know, however, that Landis rarely copied major works by major artists. He tended to copy lesser works by well-known figures — or key works by artists outside of the canon. Still, he probably could have made a fortune.
In one segment in the film, Mark explains that one piece, an academic drawing of which he’s made many variations, is “probably worth about a million dollars.”
What’s your takeaway from making the film?
What makes documentary work so exciting is the sense of discovery at the center of the process. It forces you to stay on your toes, remain open to new experiences, and to be flexible at all costs, so that the work gains depth when challenged by new information, rather than fall apart. All this was absolutely the case — and reinforced, even — in the making of “ART AND CRAFT.”
The film examines the curious story of a prolific art forger who isn’t in it for the money, but chooses instead to donate his work to museums. We began shooting at the very moment Landis’ 30-year ruse was exposed, and initially imagined a documentary that would highlight the cat-and-mouse chase between a forger and his pursuer — a set-up that also positioned the film to explore core art-world questions about provenance, authorship, and the way creative work is valued in the marketplace.
But once we met Landis and observed him confronting his exposure and his legacy, we soon understood that the film would have to prioritise the more universal and human themes that had emerged. We still had a film about authenticity and identity, but, inspired by our main character, “ART AND CRAFT” had outgrown its art-caper foundations in a way that felt right for this story. And besides, for a film about a forger, it should come as no surprise that things are not always as they seem.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.