It’s not easy to make a good documentary film about an artist. In the case of Evelyn Schels’ Georg Baselitz too little distance and too much admiration leave too little space for an unbiased audience approach. In the case of Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, we are basically watching Abramović perform herself, which makes Matthew Akers’ and Jeff Dupre’s film portrait an entertaining PR-vehicle for the artist, but not an original documentary film.
Claudia Schmid’s Richard Deacon – In Between chooses instead to observe its subject subtly and dares to use silence and contemplation where others go for a dramatic score and fast editing. Schmid’s sensitive portrayal of the sculptor at work is delicate and slow and develops an almost meditative vortex into the world and working life of Richard Deacon.
Claudia Schmid has studied painting, sculpting, and conceptual art as well as music before turning to moving images. As a filmmaker, she’s interested in seeing an idea, a form or a pattern develop into a piece of art and thereby shows her fascination with translating art into film. Schmid cleverly avoids the discourse of the genius and the master and instead depicts how a team of artists and workers accomplish much of the work that is later given the name of one person. Therefore, her film is in great parts a deconstruction of the myth of the work of a visual artist. Here, the absence of excess and drama, egomania and other art clichés is primarily produced by Richard Deacon himself, a quiet and earthed man whose relaxed commentary accompanies the serene flow of images.
“The only reason to make art is that I want to make it” is one of the many bonmots with which Deacon works against the sometimes preposterous narrative of an artist’s motivation. There is a relentless force in public thinking that one must understand art and give it a specific meaning and purpose. When Richard Deacon talks about the banality and irrationality of art and its making, his understatement is a brave push on the reset button called art interpretation. Susan Sontag would have been happy.
Richard Deacon- In Between follows the artist around the world but avoids to present Deacon’s globetrotting as a fancy jet set lifestyle. The camera is always in closed spaces and evokes an almost claustrophobic sense of an inside that is intimate and sober at the same time.
Richard Deacon won the Turner price 25 years ago, has been pronounced Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and is often called one the most influential modern sculptors. Despite his fame, Deacon is not only humble and self-analytic, but also well aware of the fact that he is producing luxury goods for less than five percent of the world population. When we watch him create a sculpture for Louis Vuitton for a shop in Singapore, Deacon’s comparison of a gallery space to an ordinary sales room raises questions about art as a globalised commodity. Such reflexions are mirrored in Schmid’s pictorial design and her long observational shots of Deacon’s employees at work. The most interesting intervention into the myth of the artist’s genius comes from Richard Deacon’s long-time companion, artist Matthew Perry, whose labour and general involvement in Deacon’s artwork raise the question of authorship at more than one point.
The fascination of watching clay, wood, and enamel turn into enormous and impressive art sculptures is something the film documents with a genuine interest in workflows and a refreshing reluctance to mystify the labour of art production. After a busy gallery weekend, this film adds just the right perspective to the glamorous presentation of the art market and shows that a film about an artist is best made when keeping a distance.
Director: Claudia Schmid, cinematography: Andreas Köhler, Steffen Bohn, Roland Breitschuh, languages: English, distributor: mindjazz pictures
Berlin screenings: Fsk, Babylon (Mitte), Eva Lichtspiele (May 12th, 11 am only)
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