Explaining why Velvet Buzzsaw is Art Criticism Perfection

Explaining why Velvet Buzzsaw is Art Criticism Perfection - but the movie definitely was a paint by numbers at the end of the day... unfortunately.IMDB
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I am a failed artist. Miserable failure. I considered seriously going to art school instead of pursuing a political science degree (only to be abandoned for a career in IT), before I decided to just appreciate art from afar. Since then I have had a lot of fun talking to some of the greatest living artists in the world – and adoring them from afar.

If the world is über realism – then maybe I might interest you in a conversation with Patrick Kramer (whom I’ve chatted with regularly over the past few years). If surrealism is your thing, maybe you’d dig some David Spriggs and his ethereal clouds? Trompe l’oeil art anyone? Well, Adam Vinson is your guy! And he is a wicked awesome fellow to boot.  Ben Butler’s tactile modernism. Or, do you remember that day I stumbled upon the art of Casey Baugh and nearly spilled the contents of my brain extravagantly across the pavement? Yeah, me too. No, no, no… Seth Clark! The destroyer of worlds! Or the lovely chat I had with Mark Hein about his sirens. And probably the unicorn of all my interviews was with Mark Demsteader, who happens to be one of the most lucrative portrait painters in the world. Have I established my bona fides with you yet? Scour this site and you’ll find way more than just these interviews. Artists that use string and algorithms. You’ll find a woman who creates life size animals out of wire, that are staged in castles, and at the Tower. Or architectural brilliance’s that shutter the imagination. Seeing artists work just unhinges me mentally. Not sure how people can operate without great art in their lives.

Which brings me to The Velvet Buzzsaw. A new movie from director and writer Dan Gilroy of Night Crawler fame. Accompanied by Jake Gyllenhaal of the extraordinary The Enemy fame, and Rene Russo who accompanied Gyllenhaal in Night Crawler (I literally cannot give that movie props enough it was so fantastic.) They all came together to craft an intriguing tale of horror set in the modern art galleries of today. Gilroy, in this über-sardonic-satire highlights the greed, pride, and cattiness of the underbelly of the art world. Is it real? No. Is it funny? Yes, very. Is it important? No…not in the least. But will you enjoy watching these evil-artistic prigs getting eviscerated? Oh, you definitely will.

Spoilers abound here – but if you just watched that trailer up there – you didn’t miss much. Maybe a detail or two about the ending. But overall, you can guess where this movie is going. But, yeah, if you’d like to go into this movie blind, and you haven’t seen it yet, please head over to Netflix, and watch. Then come back and you can join in on the discussion.

Velvet Buzzsaw and the Mental State of the Art World

So, to sum up – an artist, named Ventril Dease (Ventril Disease anyone? Heart Disease much? I could stop right there on my commentary on this movie and we’ll have said enough.) dies in his apartment alone. Another tenant in the building who works at the Gallery Haze, nabs his work and begins a feeding frenzy when the art hits the market. An art critic (played by Gyllenhaal) becomes enthralled with Dease’s work, choosing to write a deep dive piece into the artists’ lifework and motivators. And all the while, the Haze Gallery is busy hiding the fact that they basically hoisted the entire corpus of this artist’s work, when, in fact, his desire was to have it all destroyed. Better yet, the gallery representing the work is slicking palms and taking names in order to make Dease a household name as they sell every last piece for as high a price as humanly possible.

When this ruse starts to collapse, and people start dying, the fingers start pointing, and blame buzzsaw comes out in force. The art, in the meantime, is busy killing absolutely anyone connected to the heartless profiteering, and soullessness that is part and parcel with the Dease phenomenon. Is there more to this film than that? I mean, from a scaffolding standpoint? That is literally everything that happened in this film. But it isn’t the heart of everything that happened in this film.

Who Did These? I’m Escorcelled.

Have you wandered off the standard Degas, Monet, Rembrandt, art circuit long enough to encounter a graffiti artist represented by a major art label gallery? I’m talking about maybe an El Mac or Retna sorts of artists? From the outside looking in, it just looks like another brand of hegemony to me. But Rene Russo’s character Rhodora Haze, while talking to the cool new African American artist she is trying to steal from an art collective, puts it most succinctly when she said, “Let me give you a hint, all this? Is just a safari to hunt the next big thing and devour it.” And it really feels like it sometimes. The art world is an enormous hoover vacuum attempting to suck up ever single quasi-intriguing artist out there, only to pillage their work and their ideas, and then move on to the next big thing. But this movie is filled with oodles of brilliant quotes like this one:

“Who did these, I’m ensorcelled, they’re mesmeric.”

“This is a slaughterhouse. This is where ideas come to die.”

“I am hearing things, seeing things, impossible things. And this is hard to admit as a proponent of the here and now, and denier of childish beliefs…”

Morf – “These deaths, the disappearance, it’s all connected to Dease’s art, imbued with some spirit, created out of some vital ideal.”

Haze – “That’s a bit baroque don’t you think?”

“It’s an eight figure collection, and you want me to stop selling it over some spirit?…All art is dangerous Morf.”

“It has been revealed to me, that there is some sort of larger power, some entity invested in our endeavor.”

“Invested how?”

“In violation of inviolate rules.”

I’ve always been a huge fan of Banksy (do please check out his ‘Exit Through The Giftshop’ if you haven’t already. It is the single best documentary ever crafted and deals with the ephemeralness of art, and the flimsiness of propping up “artists” for art’s sake.) and his ability to poleax the art community both generally and specifically. And I think this film sort of manages to pillory, if not poleax, the inbred infighting inherent within. Also the elitism as well as the nepotism.

Velvet Buzzsaw As A Movie

Personally, I found the overall setup of the movie to be brilliant. The setup of the competing art houses. The discovery of Dease’s work. The art critics and the inbred relationships. All brilliant. But when it came time to execute on this vision, it played by the numbers. We discovered murderous art. And the art only kills those that try to profiteer from the stolen work. Everyone dies that profiteered. The end. OK. And even some of the various murders didn’t even logically fit. Like Haze’s tattoo coming to life on her neck, it doesn’t even logically follow with the rules of the movie setup to this point. But regardless, it was a passable ending for a brilliant beginning. Serviceable maybe is what I’d call it. But over all, it was a great film. Great commentary. Great insights. And brilliant art (speaking of which, does anyone know who the artist was they used to create Dease’s work? I literally can’t find anyone talking about the process by which they created his pieces, etc.).

Velvet Buzzsaw Ending Explained

It should be abundantly clear what this movie is trying to see, but it might be a bit more nuanced than some might think. While the most obvious interpretation is as a polemic against the monetary engine that the art world is, there is more to it than that. We see that the pallor of the skin for the cast is an indictment. We see the few minority artists as bit circus acts, as an indictment. We see that fervor of turkish delight in the lead’s eyes as they watch a piece of lucrative art walk by as indictment, but it is more than money indicting them. It’s the association with esteem, and applause that these characters are chasing after. Sure, they would miss their money if it were gone. But mainly these people are looking to corner the approval of the industry and the people searching for the next big thing. And it is this craze that the movie is speaking out against. At least, that is what I think it is saying anyway. I don’t know, did you enjoy the film? What did you think of it?

Edited by, CY

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