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"My Kid Could Paint That," directed by Amir Bar-Lev
[Amir Bar-Lev] Michael, how did you get personally involved with the story of Marla?
[Michael Kimmelman, Chief Art Critic, The New York Times] Well, The Times wrote a news story about Marla, and after that, I was contacted by the Week in Review section, which often wants to have somebody come back and do something about those pieces during the week that had caught people's attention. That story certainly had.
[From the brush of babes: A Four-Year-Old's fame as a painter raises anew the question "What is Art?"]
In a case like Marla, because it touches on all sorts of deep-rooted issues about whether modern art is real or not, it has a kind of strange, hypnotic appeal to it.
So I wrote something that seemed to interest me, really, about the complications of abstract art, why people don't seem to really feel that there's some way of judging what's good, what's bad.
There is this large idea out there that abstract art, and modern art in general, has no standards, no truths.
And that if a child can do it, that it, sort of, pulls the veil off this con game, and shows you that somebody who's 4 years old can do something that's every bit as good ...
as what a famous artist who sells pictures for millions of dollars could do.
That idea that art is not really about some truth ...
but it's about some lie being foisted on a public.
There's a debunking quality to it, that this seems genuine and honest, but that abstract art in general, and modern art, is one kind of racket, is a put-on.
If you take an artist like Pollock, you know, everyone basically figured this is the ultimate example of modern art gone crazy. It's a guy dripping, splashing paint.
Pollock literally invented a whole new way of painting.
The photographs of him just dripping and splashing, walking around these canvases made it look that much more like he was really not an artist.
[Art World Sensation. Voice: Ed Herlihy] ... aping the intellectuals, in an art form that most mere humans can't even begin to comprehend.
[Michael Kimmelman, Chief Art Critic, The New York Times] If you put a paintbrush in the hand of any animal that has the ability to move something, it will produce something that looks like abstract art. It's the ultimate joke. A chimp could do it. An elephant could do it. It's ridiculous.
But money is the ultimate, sort of, distorting thing.
[Christie's] Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to Christie's, and to this evening's sale of post-war and contemporary art.
$1 million to start it.
And $1 million, the latest bid here, now. $1 million. Two million, six hundred thousand. Two million, seven hundred thousand. Seven million, five hundred thousand. Seven million, six hundred thousand.
Fourteen million, five hundred thousand.
[Michael Kimmelman, Chief Art Critic, The New York Times] People just think you gotta be crazy to pay that kind of amount for what looks to me like something anybody could do.
[Christie's] For you, madam.
For you, sir.
For you, sir. Selling here, fair warning at $20 million. Selling for $20 million.
[Michael Kimmelman, Chief Art Critic, The New York Times] I think one of the fundamental problems that people have with art, because a lot of it used to be transparently clear ...
it was telling a story, that there's some assumption that art has an obligation to explain itself to you. And that if it doesn't, that, somehow, it's the art's fault.
But modernism wanted to tell a variety of stories. Now, it continues to tell stories. There's narrative in all sorts of art. If we're talking about, let's say, abstract painting, there are still stories being told.
They may be stories about the characters who made these pictures, and that was the case with Pollock. He became this kind of mythic figure.
Or, in the case of Marla, they may be stories about some child.
And that story may be what captures people's attention.