The art world is filled with enigmas, and that’s what keeps it exciting. This week, I attended a screening of a new documentary film about American contemporary artist/painter Mark Kostabi, called Full Circle, The Kostabi Story, directed by Italian filmmaker Sabrina Digregorio. The film is amazing, but before I get into it, I need to get something off my chest about another excellent Kostabi documentary from 2011, called Con Artist. Because, to me, Full Circle felt very much like the bookend to Con Artist, though I am sure that was unintentional.
While Con Artist did an excellent job of distilling Mark Kostabi’s colorful life, undeniable scenester status and celebrated art career up to that point, the title of the film referenced the fact that Kostabi, like so many modern art superstars, employs a staff to execute his paintings. I’ve met Mark Kostabi casually a few times (he is extremely friendly and approachable) and even visited his Chelsea based studio, Kostabi World, so it’s not like his process is a huge, dirty secret.
Far from it. This “revelation” is not at all scandalous when you consider that Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, among many others, employ assistants and craftsmen to execute their projects, without being subject to serious flack as to whether this step in the creative process detracts from their legitimate artistic credibility. Hell, even Michelangelo had a staff. Con Artist is an enjoyable film, but the filmmakers definitely had an agenda, and I’m still not sure if Kostabi was complicit in the way it came off. I could have asked him about it, but I never did.
Con Artist left me with a weird feeling of emotional manipulation: like I wasn’t supposed to respect Mark Kostabi or admire his art because he doesn’t personally paint every single one of his paintings. The conclusion I drew was that Kostabi had become disillusioned, abandoned the creative process and simply turned to manufacturing art, instructing his art-drones to paint in the prescribed style of “a Kostabi,” and then signing his name to that canvas. As if, by being labeled a “Con Artist,” he had surrendered to and embraced that accusation. For lack of a more eloquent phrase, it was kind of a bummer, but one that nevertheless added an additional layer of enigma to the artist.
Full Circle, on the other hand, is an extremely uplifting film. While providing only the most cursory background information on Mark, the film opts for a tight focus on his current career, his reputation among Italian art critics (Kostabi spends half the year living in Rome) and an in-depth exploration of how he works with his staff to fully realize more of his paintings – from idea to canvas – than he could possibly create physically on his own. What you get to see in full glorious detail is how all Kostabi paintings are born not just from a vague idea or rote instruction but from complete sketches that Mark provides to the painter. While the employees of Kostabi World transfer Mark’s detailed sketches to canvas he continually consults with each until the painting is up to his standards and just feels “right.”
I think that anyone who’s been confused by seeing Con Artist definitely needs to see Full Circle. Mark Kostabi really is a talented, wildly passionate and unique artist, an amazing modern classical pianist, a knowledgeable art historian and a reputable teacher. Beyond that, he is a very nice, interesting and cool person. Mark Kostabi!
I recommend Full Circle, The Kostabi Story not just to art fans who already know Mark’s work, but to anyone who is curious about Contemporary art and artists, or who feels like they don’t “get” art. I learned lot from this movie and my only minor complaint is that, at just over 60 minutes run time, it is not nearly long enough.
Watch The Trailer Below!