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"Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art" Review

To paraphrase the Blur album title, modern art is rubbish. Post-modernism's war against truth and beauty has led to mountains of junk called "art" by elitist snobs where more effort goes into the titling and description card that hangs next to this claptrap explaining why some mess that could have been made by a brain-damaged wallaby on a meth jag represents abuse or systemic racism or the evils of late-stage capitalism. It's a scam and ugly. Go to a museum and look at works painted prior to the 20th Century when skill and technique were required and compare to current nonsense.

In fact, let me help you. This is Caravaggio's "The Calling of Saint Matthew":

And this is Robert Motherwell's "Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 70":


Now that we've established that I have a rightfully low opinion of modern art, let's talk about Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, a fast-paced documentary about how a bunch of super-wealthy elites paid millions for forged Abstract Expressionist (AbEx to the art snobs) paintings supposedly from Jackson "Expensive Drop Cloths My Specialty" Pollock and Mark "Rectangles Are Me" Rothko among other creators of sloppy claptrap that snooty doofuses chin-stroke over the energy of all that oily-black paint splattered all over a canvas. (Something about fools and money applies here.)

The tale starts in 1995 at New York City's oldest art shop, the Knoedler Gallery, which was in operation well prior to the Civil War, and the arrival of a woman named Glafir Rosales who claimed to represent an anonymous Mexican art collector who had come to America in the 1950s and bought tons of AbEx pieces on the cheap from the artists, but was looking to sell them. Starting with a Rothko (the rectangles guy) bought by the gallery's director, Ann Freedman, for the fire sale price of $750,000, eventually auctioning for $5.5 million. 

While the painting and the dozens more Rosales brought in over the next decade lacked the usual provenances, they were examined by numerous experts who deemed them authentic works of their respective artists. Eventually suspicions over the sheer quantity of supposedly unknown works - some of these artists like Pollock were extensively documented at work, yet none of these painting showed up lurking in the backgrounds of their studios - led to closer examination of the paintings and their eventual exposure which led to Freedman's resignation in disgrace ahead of the gallery's closing in 2011.

Beyond the absurd amounts of money for ugly paintings, the central question is how could such a scandal have occurred. Why didn't Freedman realize that how unlikely it is for so many paintings to come out of nowhere? One, two, even a dozen, perhaps; but over 60 works which sold for over $70M passed through her hands with her buying wildly below their auction value and flipping at great profit. As one talking head says, “Either she was complicit in it, or she was one of the stupidest people to have worked at an art gallery.” While it may seem judgemental, it's a question begging asking. Eventually one well-heeled victim sued and it went to trial forcing those who had authenticated the forgeries to explain how they'd blown it. The doc also hints that the trafficking was known to the gallery's owner, Michael Hammer (father of actor and cannibal wannabe Armie), who used the proceeds to keep the gallery solvent.

 As for where Rosales and her Spanish grifter boyfriend who used her as the face of the scam got the paintings, the answer is a Chinese national math professor who lived modestly in Queens. He'd come to America to pursue an art career, but when that didn't work out, he took to making fakes for his own amusement. In China, art reproduction is considered legit work and we're shown operations cranking out duplicates. When the scandal broke, he fled back to China (where he wouldn't be extradited), and refused to participate in the doc. While he's probably the least culpable in this fraud, it would've been nice to hear his story.

 Made You Look is of a piece with previous art docs like Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (about a lower-class woman who found a Pollock painting in a thrift store, but the snooty art world refused to accept it) and My Kid Could Paint That (4-year-old girl becomes art world phenom until it's learned her father is the actual painter) - both of which my DVD reviews have disappeared online, darn it - where the hype and sophistry surrounding modern "art" makes one question whether the art itself is the point or it's just a elite intellectual class thing?

Score: 7/10. Catch it on Netflix.


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