“Modern art is a con and I am the world’s greatest con artist” – Mark Kostabi

Art often resists the urge to become commercialized and factory driven, yet Mark Kostabi has made a career–twice–on making a factory studio to produce his art.

Con Artist is a documentary that follows Mark Kostabi’s career as a rising revolutionary force in the mid-1980s New York art scene, through the world-wise recessionary period in the early 90s, and his attempt climb back into the stardom.

Con Artist explains blatantly in the beginning of the film that Kostabi is only addicted to fame. Bullied in public school and then adored in college for his art, Kostabi left for New York where he quickly found fame as an artist.

Kostabi chooses to employ other artists in his Manhattan studio to create more and more art at a faster pace, like a factory. Yet, even though these works of art were being spit out at a rampant pace, the quality of art was adequate. Kostabi only had to put his signature on it.

This poses the question, was Kostabi still an artist when others were the ones painting? Kostabi was is a business person who knows art, and knows it well. Even though others were creating the painting, Kostabi typically added his ideas, making each painting his own style.

Kostabi’s character in general is funny. One particular scene you see Kostabi pressuring a potential buyer. Kostabi doesn’t defend his work, he admits its crap, even if it is truly not. He even jokingly explains that his work often drops in price.

Con Artist shows Kostabi’s career through the highs and lows, yet is able to keep typical rise and fall cliches at bay. Kostabi’s life after his big wave of fame is far more interesting. He is commissioned to produce a statue of Pope John Paul II and runs a television show called Title This, where Kostabi has local celebrities to vote and choose titles for new paintings that emerge from his studio.

Director Micheal Sladek chose an excellent project and story. While Con Artistexplains Kostabi’s character, lifestyle and art well, there is a mission thesis statement or epiphany moment that is missing. I don’t believe this is a weakness of the film nor an attack toward the director. I believe that the story is not over and there is more to Kostabi in the future.

This documentary remained entertaining and educational throughout and never gives the viewer a disappointing moment, much like Kostabi himself. Watching an eccentric character like Kostabi begin a career on stamping out moderate quality work to be sold to predominately upper class collectors for high prices says a lot about the American sentimentality in the 1980s. Con Artist portrays and explains Kostabi’s angle well and does so without relying on talking head interviews to get by.

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