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Five Art Films to See This Summer

07/27/2010 04:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • ARTINFO The online authority for art news and gallery reviews

Summer, as anyone living in the Northeast would be happy to tell us, is here. Many galleries are closed or working a regular, Monday through Friday, workweek, and openings are few and far between. It is, in other words, a time to seek out non-art entertainment, preferably of the air-conditioned variety. Like movies! Here are ARTINFO's five picks for summer art-related films.

2010-07-27-500pxBasquiat.jpg

From Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, 2010
Courtesy Lee Jaffe, Arthouse Films

Waste Land, directed by Lucy Walker, wastelandmovie.com

Brazilian art superstar Vik Muniz seems like kind of a jerk when this documentary begins, embodying that affluent artist-tourist who awkwardly documents poverty-stricken "pickers" ("catadores") -- scavengers of recyclable materials in the mountains of garbage at the world's largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro -- from a safe and boring distance. Over the course of the film, however, Muniz (along with the delightful director Lucy Walker) become intimately involved in the lives of their subjects. And as a quickly-redeemed Muniz helps the inspiring catadores construct monumental self-portraits using the discarded materials from which they make a living, Walker constructs a fascinating simultaneous portrait of the country and of Muniz himself. Slick gavel-pounder Simon de Pury makes a strange guest appearance, when he auctions off one of Muniz's photographs of the sculptural garbage-portraits, the proceeds from the sale of which Muniz gave back to the community. The moment in which one of the pickers, a lively local activist flown out to London to see the sale of his portrait, begins to weep in the hallway of Phillips de Pury, knowing the effects the sale of just one photograph will have on the lives of everyone in his community, is a poignant reality check for those who believe that the world is enclosed in auction-house walls. -- Emma Allen

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, directed by Tamra Davis, jean-michelbasquiattheradiantchild.com

Director Tamra Davis's feature film credits include the Adam Sandler-helmed masterpiece Billy Madison, the Chris Rock comedy CB4, and Britney Spears' oddly watchable Crossroads. Her latest film amounts to different fare, a documentary about the life of New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose brief, troubled career remains one of the most contentious, complicated, and uncomfortable art-world phenomena in the past few years. -- Andrew Russeth

Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by Banksy, banksyfilm.com

Even those who are dubious of the burgeoning street-art movement may find something to like in this unusual, hall-of-mirrors documentary directed by British artist Banksy. The crisply edited 87-minute film follows the exploits of an enigmatic Frenchman named Thierry Guetta, who sets out to make a film about Banksy, only to have the camera turned on him by the reclusive superstar. Banksy ends up spawning a monster: Mr. Brainwash, the banal nom de guerre that Guetta adopts after being inspired by the experience. -- AR

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, directed by Jan Kounen, chanelstravinsky.com.au

By the end of the 20th century, Chanel and Stravinsky would be legends, brand names connoting excellence, but in its early decades they were young radicals only beginning to find success in their respective realms. Beginning with Chanel's attendance of the 1913 riot-filled premiere of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," Kounen's sultry biopic follows its title characters from their first meeting to their torrid love affair, which began after the designer generously offered the composer use of her country villa. -- AR

Agora, directed by Alejandro Amenabar, agorathemovie.com

While not strictly art-related, this period piece, set in Roman Egypt as Christianity was spreading throughout the region, explores (as Roger Ebert put it) "the ancient war between science and superstition," a topic that seems as relevant as ever. Written and directed by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, Agora chronicles the life of a Roman slave who falls for his master, the philosophy professor Hypatia of Alexandria. Complicating matters, the slave is leaning toward the ascendant Christianity, and Hypatia is an atheist. -- AR

- Andrew Russeth & Emma Allen

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