Icarus Films // 2002 // 224 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // October 15th, 2009
"A playful series of eight films that are both analytical adventures and adventurous analyses."
Matthew Barney's ten DVD copies of the Cremaster Cycle are each worth about a million or so. I don't think DVD Verdict will ever get a screener copy, but we do get to screen Art Safari, an eight-part look at Barney and other contemporary artists which originally aired on the BBC and other European networks.
The two discs each contain four episodes, roughly 28 minutes each:
* "Maurizio Cattelan: How to Get A Head in the Art World"
Ben Lewis goes in search of Italian artist Cattelan, "a celebrity in the art world, but a nobody outside it." Among Cattelan's comic works are a suicidal squirrel and a memorial to English football futility.
* "Gregor Schneider: House of Horrors"
Schneider, "Germany's most successful young artist," exhibits his strange house and shows off his eye for postwar German suburbia. Lewis joins Schneider as the artist recreates a dank alley.
* "Matthew Barney: Church of Cremaster"
Barney creates "a universe of total perversity" with his five nearly silent films in the Cremaster Cycle. There's a message about creativity and the meaning of life somewhere amid the strange, occasionally bloody or sexual images, or so we're told.
* "Relational Art: Is It an Ism?"
A dazzling light display that you'll still see with your eyes closed, shown in slow motion to reduce any risk to your retinas, introduces a new movement that explores "human interactions and the social context." Lewis introduces viewers to the artists and the rules of new art movements.
* "Wim Delvoye: Is This Sh*t Art?"
The sh*t in question comes from a machine that imitates the human digestive system. Lewis gets it tested to see if it's real. He also gets a genuine Delvoye tattooed on his back.
* "Santiago Sierra: Art Versus Globalization"
Sierra, believing "all work is pointless capitalist exploitation," pays people to participate in his art. Lewis, "trying to figure out how he got away with it," causes trouble with the organizers of an exhibition.
* "Sophie Calle: Conceptual Heart"
The French "artist of love" finds inspiration in loves lost. Lewis tries to "seduce her with her most secret desire," as one of her friends puts it.
* "Takashi Murakami: Toying with Art"
The Japanese pop artist is "the art world's best investment" and has spawned plenty of merchandising. There's also a serious message to his work about Japan's loss of national identity.
Art Safari is aimed at a viewer who's interested in contemporary art, but isn't necessarily a scholar. "Art geek" Ben Lewis isn't cracking jokes, but his style -- a mix of deadly seriousness and antics, such as his imitation of artist Cattelan to get a meeting with the recluse -- can be amusing and feels like he's game for it. Even as you're laughing, you will learn something about an artist's ideas or how the art world works. He's good at putting the artists' work in context, offering clips and explanation of earlier artists or the times they're commenting on. The "Relational Art" episode, which examines a new trend and shows how art critics and experts think, is entirely devoted to a primer on artistic movements.
I wouldn't recommend powerwatching Art Safari. Each half-hour episode puts a lot of information before you, and watching several episodes back to back might feel overwhelming.
It looks and sounds good for a production that goes on location a lot. A booklet with comments by Lewis adds more background about the artists featured on the DVD.
Art Safari provides a quick survey of contemporary art that should satisfy anyone looking for one. Lewis' oddball humor is easy to take and occasionally illuminating.
Not guilty. Plus, at less than a million, it's a bargain.
Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Icarus Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 224 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site