Kusama: Infinity and The Price of Everything, two art docs that premiered at Sundance this year, investigate the prejudices and elitism of the art world.
Art documentaries tend to have a self-selecting audience: if you like art, and are interested in how it’s made, you see art documentaries. If you know the artist, you see the documentary; if you don’t, you might consider using it as an entrée. I’m not sure I’d have been interested in a film like 2016 Sundance premiere, Sky Ladder — a thoughtful if not ground-breaking look at the creation of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder works — had I not seen his exhibit at the Guggenheim. Occasionally, a film like Wiseman’s National Gallery (2014) will make you think about how to look at art and give you new insights into what paintings do. Gerhard Richter – Painting (2011) is the rare film to find dramatic tension in watching an artist think: will he add more paint or take apart what he’s already done? It’s a fascinating look into the artistic process.
This year, Sundance featured two art documentaries — Kusama: Infinity and The Price of Everything — both of which focused more on the art world than the artist’s work. Heather Lenz’s Kusama: Infinity serves as a primer on the life and works of Yayoi Kusama, but is primarily interested in Kusama’s effect on the art world, and its discrimination against her. Meanwhile, The Price of Everything focuses entirely on how art prices are determined, often arbitrarily, and how these prices affect the art world and the public’s access to great art.