Ever since the Dada movement of the early 20th century coined the term "readymade," appropriation and authorship have been central themes of modern art. In today's world of Photoshop, HD cell phone cameras and affordable digital reproduction, these questions are as alive as ever — and take on a new meaning as cases of art forgery (from Wolfgang Beltracchi to Ken Perenyi, Pei-Shen Qian and more) continue to pop up in the news. Fakes and forgeries are in the zeitgeist and when discovered, they also inevitably incite debate over the role of art, artists and the very institutions that drive the industry and determine value.
When The New York Times published an article about Mark Landis a few years ago, we were hooked from the start. The piece described a talented art forger who wasn't motivated by money but instead donated his work to institutions across the United States for nearly three decades. But at the time, Landis had avoided full-scale detection and so the story explored his elaborate con through the experiences of the museum directors, curators and registrars who had received his countless forgeries. The man at the center of the storm remained a mystery. We were dying to know more. Who was Mark Landis? What were his motivations? We had to meet him.
Landis it turns out was hiding in plain sight at his mother's house in Mississippi. And he defied our expectations from the start. First and foremost, he was remarkably transparent for a man in his position. He seemed genuinely troubled by the idea that he had caused anyone harm (even if he didn't believe his actions were so problematic). Mark Landis clearly didn't fit the typical profile of a master art forger.
In The New York Times, the Financial Times and other publications, the curators he duped wondered aloud: Was Landis a failed artist trying to get back at the art world that had rejected him? Was he a kind of Robin Hood for the arts with dreams of bringing great works to the masses? Or was he some kind of a performance artist, intent on questioning notions of originality and authorship?
Before we knew it, we were filming Landis at work as both forger and "philanthropist." But it was not until Landis began to open up about his past, his family and his struggles with mental illness, that we soon realized this story was in fact bigger than its art world foundation. Diagnosed as a teenager with schizophrenia and multiple behavioral disorders in the 1970s, Landis had endured a lifetime of marginalization as a person living with mental illness—and his elaborate thirty-year con had become a means to change all that, allowing him to regain control and finally be given respect. He found his calling and over time, Landis became "addicted to philanthropy."
Art and Craft uncovers a unique story of obsession that falls at the intersection of authenticity and identity. This intimate character study opens a window onto the disarmingly eccentric world of one man, but in doing so uncovers something much more universal—the search for meaning and purpose.
—Jennifer Grausman and Sam Cullman, Directors/Producers