Some liken him to the bastard godchild of De Chirico and Warhol. Some call his work brilliant. Others — particularly those profiting from it — call it junk. On the evidence of "Con Artist," a lively portrait of the enfant terrible in middle age, Mark Kostabi doesn't draw indifferent responses.
A star of the fashionably outré '80s New York scene, the Whittier-raised provocateur pushed conceptual art to a new edge, eventually overseeing a stable of assistants who did everything but sign the increasingly kitschy canvases. He made a mint with his Kostabi World art factory, a branding coup if ever there was one, and landed profiles on "60 Minutes" and other mainstream news outlets.
Whether Kostabi was, as he claimed, engaged in social satire or had fallen into a "black hole of irony," as writer James Kaplan observes, is a mystery that filmmaker Michael Sladek doesn't solve. He does, though, gather a terrific assortment of interviews, including Kaplan's, and captures the compelling oddness of his subject.
As Kostabi struggles to revive his career (a commission from the Vatican helps) and his love life, he comes across as either uncommonly lacking in social graces or willfully obnoxious. But the camera also sees past, if just barely, the clumsy bravado of a man who insists that "fame is love."
"Con Artist." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.