You may not have heard of Mark Landis, but thanks to a fantastic new documentary, Art and Craft, that is about to change. In the body of this unassuming, diminutive man lies what some call the most prolific art forger in U.S. history. Landis’ body of work… errr…forged work… spans over thirty years, including various styles and time periods. To put it plainly, he duplicates works from Picasso to Walt Disney using supplies from a local arts and crafts store. However, despite the enormous amount of money Landis could secure from his forgeries, he is not “in it” for the money. His reward is seeing his reproductions hanging at prominent art galleries, so he “gifts” his forgeries to various museums around the country, including D.C.’s very own Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The fact that he doesn’t take monetary compensation is one of the main reasons he has not been prosecuted.
While many people in the art world look at Mr. Landis with anger, directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman show an empathetic view of this man’s life, his struggle with mental illness, heartbreaking loneliness, and also his incredible artistic talent. Landis’ outrageous story, full of secret identities learned from such TV shows as Father Brown, is presented in a way that makes him likeable, even when he is obviously duping excited museum curators.
Along with being a fascinating character study, Art and Craft also plays as a cat and mouse thriller. After all, for many years, Landis’ forgeries went undiscovered, even though many “originals” were hanging at multiple museums all around the country. That is, until he “messed with the wrong registrar”. Landis made the mistake of gifting a painting to Matthew Leininger at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Leininger discovered Landis’ secret and dedicated his life to “outing” Landis. But, no matter what Leininger does, will Landis ever really stop?
Art and Craft is a film that will stay with you long after you’re done watching. Not only is the story fascinating, one that I proceeded to tell everyone that would listen, but it also makes you think twice when seeing “original” art in a museum. Is that the real deal or could it possible be a forgery? After all, Landis was able to get away with this duplicitous activity for thirty years. Have there been others like him that haven’t encountered “the wrong registrar”?
My Review: B+