The past year has been a tough one for the movie business. But despite the widespread closure of theaters and delays in releases, an impressive bunch of films related to the arts have come out.
From dueling documentaries on the infamous Knoedler forgery scandal to biopics on artists M.C. Escher David Wojnarowicz, here are 19 new art movies and where to stream them.
Driven to Abstraction (2020)
Amazon or iTunes ($4.99) and in virtual theaters
Undoubtably one of the biggest art scandals of the 21st century, the Knoedler forgery ring saw the eminent U.S. gallery sell some $80 million in forged mid-century masterpieces. Those involved said they did so unknowingly, despite an unverifiable provenances, wildly anachronistic materials, and, most damningly, a misspelled signature. Daria Price covers it all in this documentary. (Bonus: The film features expert commentary from Midnight Publishing Group News’s senior market editor Eileen Kinsella.)
Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (2020)
Netflix (free with subscription)
Knoedler forgery scandal, take two. This documentary interviews Ann Freedman, the gallery’s president, and a central figure in the forgery ring. She presents herself as the scam’s biggest victim—but was she actually its mastermind?
Chris McKim draws on the audio journals of the late artist David Wojnarowicz—plus commentary from the likes of Fran Lebowitz, art dealer Gracie Mansion, and art critic Carlo McCormick—to paint a full picture of the queer painter, photographer, writer, and activist, who died in 1992 of AIDS. The obscene title comes from a graffiti message that Wojnarowicz found scrawled on the street and appropriated for his art.
Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible (2019)
iTunes ($4.99), Amazon ($4.99)
Artist Matthew Taylor directs a love letter to Marcel Duchamp, who changed the course of art history not once, but twice. First with his Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, which ignited controversy at the 1913 Armory Show in New York even as it ushered the Modernist movement into the mainstream, and then with The Fountain, his urinal “readymade” that became a legendary Dada masterpiece.
Jennifer Trainer, who spent decades as the head of public relations at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts (and is married to Joseph C. Thompson, its former director), directs a film celebrating the institution and the way it revitalized a rural town after local factories shut down. Meryl Streep offers some star power as the documentary’s narrator.
Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own (2019)
Vimeo ($3.99), iTunes ($4.99), Amazon ($4.99)
Artist Ursula von Rydingsvard, known for her monumental wooden sculptures, shaped from towering cedar trunks, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the studio machinations that make her large-scale public artworks possible.
Pat Steir: Artist (2020)
YouTube ($3.99), Amazon ($3.99)
Novelist and filmmaker Veronica Gonzalez Peña spent two years interviewing the painter Pat Steir in this intimate portrait of the groundbreaking feminist artist and her beloved “waterfall” paintings, made by dripping, splashing, and pouring paint.
Lifeline: Clyfford Still (2019)
YouTube ($2.99), Amazon ($3.99)
For this documentary, director Dennis Scholl gained access to the personal life of Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still in the form of 34 hours of audio recordings of the artist, as well as interviews with his daughters, Diane Still Knox and Sandra Still Campbell.
Carlos Almaraz: Playing with Fire (2019)
Netflix (free with subscription)
Carlos Almaraz was a Los Angeles artist and Chicano art activist who died of AIDS in 1989. His widow, artist Elsa Flores Almaraz, along with actor Richard J. Montoya, co-direct this Netflix documentary about his life and legacy, including his struggles to come to terms with his identity as a Chicano and his bisexuality. Watch to find out why David Hockney, Richard Diebenkorn, Jack Nicholson, and Cheech Marin have all been fans of Almaraz’s work.
Black Art: In the Absence of Light (2021)
HBO Max (free with subscription)
This HBO documentary is largely narrated by artist and curator David Driskell, who died last year. The film explains the influence of his seminal 1976 group show “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” and features prominent Black artists working today, including Theaster Gates, Kehinde Wiley, and Jordan Casteel,
After decades of supporting institutions behind the scenes—including more than a decade heading the board at the Museum of Modern Art—New York City art philanthropist Agnes Gund gets her moment in the sun with this documentary directed by her daughter Catherine Gund.
Feels Good Man (2020)
Illustrator Matt Furie never could have predicted the afterlife of Pepe the Frog, a character from his comic book series Boys Club. This documentary from Arthur Jones unravels the mystery of how the slacker frog morphed first into an internet mascot and a symbol of hate for the alt-right—and how Furie attempted to reclaim his most famous creation.
Martha: A Picture Story (2020)
Amazon Prime (free with subscription)
Martha Cooper, who in the 1970s became the first female staff photographer at the New York Post, has made a name for herself as the foremost documenter of graffiti art in New York City. Now, her unlikely career is itself the subject of a documentary film, directed by Selina Miles.
The Painter and the Thief (2020)
Hulu (free with subscription)
Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree found a pair of unlikely documentary subjects in Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech painter, and Karl-Bertil Nordland, a thief that stole two of her paintings. The movie tracks their unlikely relationship as Kysilkova attempts to paint a portrait of the heavily tattooed criminal who committed the robbery because, she says, “they were beautiful.”
You might not know the name Gustav Stickley, but the late designer was a key figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement, which rebelled against industrialization. Director Herb Stratford provides a full picture of Stickley’s life and career, and what’s behind his lasting significance.
The mind-bending work of M.C. Escher, known for his optical illusions, was an exploration of both art and mathematics. Director Robin Lutz explores the evolution of the Dutch printmaker’s increasingly intricate work, animating his illustrations to stunning effect, with voiceovers from actor Stephen Fry.
Banksy Most Wanted (2020)
This documentary from Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley explores the various theories as to the identity of anonymous British street artist Banksy and praises his high-profile stunts, like Love Is in the Bin, the shredding of a Balloon Girl print after it sold at auction. It’s likely to be enjoyed most by diehard Banksy fans (one talking head apparently claims that “Banksy is the Picasso of the 21st century”).
In this indie film, directed by Michael Walker, three art school grads are determined to navigate the New York art world, even if they that means resorting to blackmail, betraying their friends, and—perhaps worst of all—painting their own mothers in the nude. (Full disclosure: a group of real-life art-world professionals were called in as extras in the penultimate scene at a gallery opening, so keep an eye out for the writer.)
Beyond the Visible (2019)
Director Halina Dyrschk continues the important work of restoring the legacy of pioneering Swedish painter Hilma af Klint, who began experimenting with abstraction five years before it was “invented” by Wassily Kandinsky. The film recounts Klint’s life and career, her descent into obscurity, and ultimate rediscovery, including the blockbuster 2019 exhibition of her work at the Guggenheim Museum New York.
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