Con Artist

It’s too bad Oklahoma City Museum of Art already has played the documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” because it would make an ideal double feature with “Con Artist,” which is screening Friday and Saturday night.

Whereas “Exit” featured Banksy, an internationally famous artist so publicity-shy that his identity remains unknown, “Con” features Mark Kostabi, a internationally famous artist who can’t get enough press for his liking. In his own words, he’s “addicted to it.” The doc depicts his rise, fall and rise again, in spite of himself.

The “Con” of director Michael Sládek’s title holds two meanings: Kostabi is a conceptual artist, but also an admitted forger. Like his rival Jeff Koons, he’s a talent so in love with the almighty dollar that he rarely does any work anymore. Instead, he employs a staff of artists who copy Kostabi’s well-established style to make his every whim exist on the canvas. When it’s to his liking, he’ll sign it, while gleefully declaring that he’s committed yet another con.

Well, if he can be bothered to pick up the pen; his employees can replicate his distinctive John Hancock just as well.

Also adept at the piano, Kostabi is one talented guy, but his personality is another story, thereby making “Con Artist” imminently watchable. “Abrasive” and “obnoxious” are understatements when describing how he rubs his peers. In the film’s opening moments, he’s called everything from “a half-ass entertainer” to “Applebee’s aspiring to be Olive Garden.”

Is he for real, or is it all an act?

Some — OK, all — just don’t get him, as his interests veer toward public-access cable television, staging an elaborate yet still not entirely concrete game show called “Title This,” in which contestants offer names for his untitled paintings, for which they’re rewarded with $20 bills.

Viewers won’t quite get him, either, particularly after a bizarre, third-act meltdown that finds a presumably intoxicated Kostabi burning money, defacing his own paintings, farting into the camera and generally acting like a kindergartener who found — and promptly consumed — an entire sixpack of blue raspberry Jolt in the back of the pantry.

What does one make of a guy who, on one hand, had his statue of Pope Benedict XVI blessed by the subject himself, yet on the other, asks a room of Yale art students to whom he’s lecturing if anyone else has seen 11:11 pop up on digital clocks with regularity (and if any organization is looking into this)?

Is he for real, or is it all an act? I don’t have the answer, and neither does Sládek, but you’ll enjoy every awkward, outrageous minute of trying to get to bottom of his mad mystery of mirth and mischief.

Rod Lott

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