Blurred Lines profiles shadowy art world
The contemporary art world can be intimidating , with its mysterious nature, sticker shock, and gallerists who are sometimes hesitant to offer a price or even say hello to patrons.
“I used to walk into an art gallery and say, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful, how much is that?’ ‘Sold.’ ‘I didn’t see a red dot,’” recalls Toronto filmmaker Barry Avrich.
“They just don’t want me to have it ... because I’m not important to them as a collector. They can’t say, ‘That beautiful painting is in Barry Avrich’s collection.’
“They’re very careful in terms of who they’re going to sell the art to.”
Avrich explores such mysteries of the contemporary art world — with the aim of making it more accessible and understandable — with his new documentary, “Blurred Lines.”
The film, which is screening at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, interviews a host of power players in the industry, including renowned artists Julian Schnabel, Marina Abramovic and Canada’s own Michael Snow. Other interviewees include collectors, museum directors, heads of auction houses, prominent international art gallerists and art fair organizers.
“We cover the spectrum to try and show how this world fits together, because it’s not obvious — and sometimes it’s intentionally not obvious,” says Jonas Prince, the film’s producer, who is also a collector and a trustee of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
“What is art has changed, what is the job of a gallerist is changing, the auction houses no longer earn their livelihood completely from the auction ... Collectors are now showing their art in their own buildings so they become their own museums.”
The film starts in September 2008 with the collapse of financial services firm Lehman Brothers. Just 24 hours after the meltdown, works by British artist Damien Hirst sold for almost $200 million US at Sotheby’s in London.
As the film explores the commodification of contemporary art, it looks at how artists gain credibility, how the prices of works can skyrocket, and why collectors collect.
Avrich says a lot of the artists they spoke with “do want the art world to be more accessible.”
“There are certain dealers that want to keep it shadowy and auction houses that don’t want to necessarily lift up the lid, so there was some hesitation in the beginning,” he says, noting “a film like this has not been made in the past.”
“Blurred Lines” is showing May 7 at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W., Toronto, as part of the Hot Docs festival. The Canadian Press
Julian Schnabel is one of the artists interviewed in the documentary "Blurred Lines."