Commotion in Carmel
Mr. Brainwash leads a flood of other edgy artists and directors to Carmel Art & Film Festival.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
It’s subtitled “Chaos and Creativity,” stars an artist provocateur from the guerilla art scene and shares films that sweep across uncomfortable topics. Though it’s called the Carmel Art & Film Festival, the five-day torrent of morning-to-night art shows, films, music, parties and expos, back for its second year, has a decidedly un-Carmel feel to it.
The festival is the physical manifestation of Carmel-based quarterly ARTWORKS Magazine, steered by publisher Tom Burns, his wife, Managing Editor (and KSBW Action News co-anchor) Erin Clark, and Senior Editor Ben Bamsey. The philosophy of the magazine has been to enlist journalists rather than art critics to cover West Coast art in a non-judgemental and inclusive way that speaks to a “wide audience,” says Burns. And its signature festival follows suit in big, bold strokes.
Local and regional creativity pops up everywhere all weekend. It arrives with the dozens of artists exhibiting outside at a two-day show in Devendorf Park (look for Carine Mascarelli’s tranquil “Translucence”). It goes home with art fans through an ongoing auction of works by Kathy Jones, Daniel Ochoa, Johnny Apodaca and others at CAFF’s Carmel Plaza headquarters. And it glows with a photography show culled from across the globe and curated, as it was last year, by Kim Weston, Burns and Lucie Foundation president Hussein Farmani (it runs through Oct. 30, at Sunset Center).
The CAFF headquarters (7am-6pm daily), a minimalist, third-floor corner space with concrete floors, is home to hip merchandise with the festival logo and catchy phrases like “Do You Know Who I Am?” It doubles as an art gallery, triples as the offices for staff, and quadruples as a Twitter homebase, where one can see live Tweets of festival events on a big screen TV. Also worth seeing: Douglas McCulloh’s collage “Google Image Search: Monterey Bay,” which juxtaposes Monterey images with Bay Watch spoofs. It’s hilarious.
The biggest art buzz, though, emanates from Burns and company landing featured artist Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, aka MBW – a Frenchman The Daily Beast called the “art world’s new star.” After years of filming street art icons and friends like Shepard Fairey and the mysterious but ubiquitous Banksy in Los Angeles, Mr. Brainwash put down the camera and picked up a spraypaint can and started doing art himself, bombing and posterizing bare walls in his adopted L.A. At some point, he decided he was ready for a solo show. It was called Life is Beautiful and it was gigantic, drawing so many people into massive lines at its 2008 opening that it looked like Apple was releasing a new product.
Inside L.A.’s former CBS building, crowds found shattered records reassembled into gleaming portraits of Jim Morrison and Michael Jackson, eight-foot paint cans and brushes plastered with signature pink paint, life-sized “sculptures” made from tire treads, recontextualized Photoshopped images – more than 200 pieces under one roof.
But Mr. Brainwash’s smash success created shards of skepticism, primarily because he commissioned many of the pieces and probably because he hadn’t been vetted by the establishment art world.
“Hoax, genius, or shameless opportunist,” mused Village Voice. Comments on L.A. Weekly’s cover story on the artist and the show volleyed between “a copycats’ disgorgement” to “This looks so awesome. I haven’t been this excited about an art show in a while.”
On camera and in interviews, though, Mr. Brainwash, who claims the moniker alludes to his intention to “brainwash” people into believing in themselves, seems earnest. He says affirmative things, in a persistent French accent, like “People are magic,” and “If we are all together and help each other, we will lead a beautiful life.” After designing a Warhol/Marilyn Monroe style cover for Madonna’s greatest hits album, Mr. Brainwash’s second solo show, ICONS, in New York, which opened this year on Valentine’s Day in a 15,000 square foot warehouse, reportedly drew 100,000 people during its run – little consolation for the skeptics.
In a friendly merger of art and film, Mr. Brainwash – as well as Fairey and Banksy – is featured in the fresh documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (7pm Saturday, Sunset Center), which chronicles the artists in action, painting at night, scaling billboards and getting arrested, as well as the lead-up to the Life is Beautiful show. Days after participating in a New York charity event with Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes, Mr. Brainwash is slated to attend the Carmel screening, as well as put up art in the coming Homescapes space at Carmel Plaza, although, says festival co-founder Tom Burns, “[He] is kind of a carefree artist. I don’t know what he’s going to come up with. It will be like Christmas.”
A self-made street artist provocateur taking center stage in well-mannered Carmel. Imagine the possibilities.
“I don’t think he’s going to go nuts,” says Burns, who reports that Mr. Brainwash was “surprised” by Carmel’s beauty. A couple of businesses who know the artist’s rep have already invited him to “do anything” on their walls. Now that’s the spirit.
Last year, Sunset Center played host to all the CAFF films, with the only – albeit seismic – exception being a packed preview of Precious at Golden State Theatre. This year, five screens – Golden Bough Playhouse, Carmel City Hall, Carmel Youth Center and two screens at Sunset Center – will stay busy with 66 screenings of juried and invited full-length and short film packages, with nearly all the features followed by filmmaker Q&As.
Projectors will spin out films like Pink Smoke Over the Vatican (4pm Saturday, city hall), a local production by Carmel Valley filmmaker Jules Hart and Cachaugua Playboy/Andrea’s Fault musician Rick Chelew, about the fight against the misogyny reinforced by the Catholic church’s 2008 threat to excommunicate anyone attempting to ordain women as priests. The world premier of the aching documentary Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer (5pm Saturday, Golden Bough; 3:30pm Sunday, city hall, for a touch of irony) will tell the story of a naïve but good-hearted politician railroaded into near ruin, ending in his very public suicide. The very indie and very good Fanny, Annie & Danny (7:30pm Sunday, Sunset Center) drops us in on an average family caught in a web of crippling dysfunction.
Just the titles of some of the films – Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi, Last Elephants in Thailand, Don’t Quit Your Daydream, Butterfly Circus – are enough to titillate. Diverse and quickly digestible blocks of shorts from Sundance, CSUMB and elsewhere will run all day Saturday and Sunday at Carmel Youth Center, culminating in a Best Of program 5pm Sunday at Sunset Center.
Women filmmakers scored with Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Director Oscar win, but check out what’s next at Saturday’s Women in Film symposium and screening (noon, Sunset Center), which gathers panelists including directors Susan Koch (The Other City, 2:30pm Saturday, Sunset Center), Diane Bell (Obselidia, 8:30pm Friday, Sunset Center), Penelope Buitenhuis (A Wake, 8:30pm Friday, Sunset Center), Alesia Weston from the Sundance Film Festival, and film composer Helene Muddiman. RSVP for a spot to this one.
It was only recently confirmed that filmmaker Ryan White, who’s lived in and worked as a documentary filmmaker in Southeast Asia for the last seven years, will attend the screening of his documentary Camp Unity (noon Friday, city hall). That’s significant because White grew up in Big Sur and Carmel and went to school at Stevenson; but it’s doubly significant because his documentary, about the American Voices arts academy in Iraq that teaches kids music and dance, in turn, shows us the young dreams harbored in the county’s turmoil.
“The students have been through a lot and seen a lot of things that I can’t even imagine,” White writes from Bangkok.
There’s the wound in his mostly delightful film – that these are kids, with dreams but meager resources, as eager to express themselves as all the American Idol worshippers here in the states, who can be harmed either by extremists or bombs for it.
Makes you appreciate stuff like Carmel Art & Film that much more – as well as the inclusive and forward-thinking philosophy behind the festival.