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'Art and Craft's' portrait of art imitator seems exploitative

'Art and Craft's' portrait of art imitator seems exploitative
Mark Landis copies a Picasso in a scene from the documentary "Art and Craft." (Sam Cullman / Oscilloscope Laboratories)

The documentary "Art and Craft" paints a portrait of Mark Landis, an artist who achieved notoriety by giving dozens of museums in 20 states more than 100 replicas over more than three decades that they apparently thought were originals. Picasso, Signac, Cassatt, Valtat — he's copied them all.

As chief registrar at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Matthew Leininger made it his personal crusade to get the word out about Landis. It was a five-year obsession that eventually cost Leininger his job. His campaign led to a Financial Times magazine profile by John Gapper. Filmmakers Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker have retraced Gapper's investigative work, following its narrative and interviewing the same people for the documentary.

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Landis has acknowledged mental issues in interviews, and it registers so much more on film. The constant scrutiny of a camera seems exploitative and cruel, even if you are at all suspicious when he rationalizes his behavior as childlike mischief.

Fortunately, the film strays off Gapper's narrative and allows Landis a chance at redemption: Aaron Cowan from the University of Cincinnati curates Landis' first solo show of copied and original work at the university's DAAP Galleries with the assistance of Leininger, of all people. Their reconciliation on opening night ends the film on a moving note.

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"Art and Craft."

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: Landmark's Nuart, West Los Angeles.

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