“He’s Applebee’s aspiring to be Olive Garden,” says art critic Donald Kuspit of the aggravating subject of “Con Artist.” A funny feature-length look at 1980s New York money-grub artist Mark Kostabi, director-producer-cinematographer-co-editor Michael Sládek’s cruel documentary may be the creepiest artist portrait in memory, a well-etched portrait of a desperate arriviste hysteric. Kostabi’s ugly canvases rollicked in vulgarity, rife with occult personal symbologies that don’t stand up next to more recent successes like George Condo and John Currin or his arch-nemesis Jeff Koons. “That painting is a big shit,” an Italian dealer says of a Mona Lisa with Kostabi’s own homely features, but admits that he can make money from him, “he’s a businessman.” Aping Warhol, he even established a “Kostabi World” to churn-and-burn his work. Is Kostabi in on the satire of himself as a “half-ass entertainer”? It’s sad, but entertaining, in any case, especially as Kostabi’s horrifying personality commandeers more and more screen time. Plus there’s that commission from the Vatican for a statue of Pope John II… With Molly Barnes, Michel Gondry, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Behrman, Pope Benedict XVI, Victor Bockris, Wilfredo Arias, Mike Cockrill, Jacob Collins, Fabio D’Aroma. 84m. (Ray Pride)
“Con Artist” opens Friday at Facets.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.