Once upon a time a budding young painter named Mark Kostabi left his hometown of Whittier, California to measure his talents in the exploding East Village art scene of 1980's New York City. Joining the ranks of other up-and-comers including Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and others, Kostabi was initially seen as an exceptional talent and soon became a legitimate art star, rocketing to international fame and fortune during the art/Punk/Hip-Hop boom. He accomplished this, however, via a Warhol-inspired gimmick: to mass-produce thousands of paintings per year, conceived of and executed not by himself, but by a revolving stable of hired hands. He then signed and sold these paintings, proclaiming himself the court jester of the art world while declaring, "Modern Art is a con and I am the world's greatest con artist." This brazen lampooning of the industry and capitalism itself made him rich, landing him on Oprah, Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, 60 Minutes and more. However, Kostabi's cynical success and overt antagonism eventually caused the New York art establishment as well as his most trusted employees to turn on him, resulting in bankruptcy and a remarkable fall from grace.
Over the course of this highly energetic dark comedy, Con Artist focuses on Kostabi's current obsession with getting back on top; an obsession which manifests itself in bizarre attempts to regain prominence and find happiness through fame which he openly equates with love. Now approaching fifty, single, and an art world pariah, Kostabi masks a bruised ego as he tries to entice women, sells "his" paintings on Italian TV, speaks at a Yale University Master's Tea, stars in a self-financed TV game show, and hitches his dreams of stardom to a high profile commission from the Vatican. As he tries to gain control of the film itself, his essential narcissism illuminates insights in- to his own ego while reflecting America's rampant obsession with celebrity and money. Primarily a cautionary tale, Con Artist is an open-ended study of modern media and capitalism via a jaw-dropping character audiences love to hate and hate to love.
Shot mainly in New York City, Southern California, and Rome, Italy, Con Artist features interviews with art, film, music and media personalities, including filmmaker Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Green Hornet), Glenn O'Brien (Editorial Director, Interview, Art in America), Nick Zedd (filmmaker), Baird Jones (gossip columnist, Warhol chronicler), Daze (graffiti artist), Donald Kuspit (art critic/author), Wichy Hassan (Co-Founder/Creative Director, Miss Sixty), and many more. The film also features special appearances by Bill Clinton, Jeff Koons, Dennis Miller, Pope Benedict XVI and many others.
An integral part of Con Artist's narrative and overall aesthetic, the soundtrack is a kaleidoscope of punk, post-punk, world, indie rock, cabaret, experimental and circus music. Featured artists include The Willowz, These Are Powers, The Movies, Peelander-Z, Richie James Follin, Guignol and more.
84 min., Unrated
In English & Italian with English Subtitles
Con Artist is produced by Plug Ugly Films in association with Ovation, The Group Entertainment, ACME Pictures, Room 5 Films, and New Yorker Films.
Pope Benedict XVI