The movie Art and Craft follows the life story of Mark Landis. He is considered one of the most prolific art forgers in American history, with works that cover numerous periods and styles. His copies were known to grab some impressive prices when they reached the open market, but Landis didn’t do the work for cash.
Landis often donated the paintings that he created to museums, panning off his fakes as if they were the real thing. The film picks up when a registrar in Cincinnati, named Matthew Leininger, discovers what the artist is doing.
Then Landis is forced to confront his legacy while museum professionals ask him to stop trying to offer fakes. Since the artist also deals with schizophrenia, the work he does creates an addiction to philanthropy while the movie asks questions about authenticity and authorship.
This 2014 Documentary Stands Up Still Today
Landis donated over 100 doctored pieces to at least 46 museums in 20 different states during the three decades he actively copied famous works of art. When you watch Art and Craft, you can see him creating several of the items right away.
If you don’t look too closely at the piece, then the artwork certainly seems like it could be authentic. A professional inspection would determine that Landis uses pigment to augment the final product, but most museum administrators never went to that length to authenticate any of the pieces in question.
What is more remarkable about the donated artwork that Landis created is that he would pick up frames from Walmart that looked distressed.
The film brings up more questions than the answers it attempts to provide. It exposes how lackadaisical art museums are when verifying the authenticity of a piece. Landis was able to donate multiple copies of the same work in several institutions.
When Landis gets confronted with his choices, his response is challenging: “Where would today’s church be if St. Peter didn’t lie?”
Although the artwork itself is fraudulent, Landis didn’t break any laws because he didn’t earn any money from the forgeries he created.
Landis Shines as a Character in this Movie
Although Art and Craft is a documentary, Landis feels like a character that comes straight from Hollywood. His Southern accent, soft voice, and polite body language all speak of sinister undertones that you know exist, but cannot quite pinpoint.
Landis even shows off several disguises that help him to pull off the donations to art museums across the United States. One of the best options is Father Arthur Scott – a character he pulled from G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown.
This movie also adds more fuel to the criticism of the artwork marketplace that it is manipulated by galleries and curators who tell people what they want to hear. How else can someone like Norman Rockwell, dismissed as a mere illustrator, become one of America’s greatest artists posthumously?
When watching Art and Craft, it is not that much of a stretch to see the future of art being forgeries like Landis created.