Mark Kostabi is a talented artist and a smug, antagonistic douchebag, both of which made him an art-world celebrity. Con Artist recounts Kostabi's ascendancy during the New York scene's '80s heyday, a rise fueled by a willingness to insult contemporaries, slander modern art as a sham, and indulge in outrageous PR stunts that not only blurred but disintegrated the line between humor and sincerity. A court jester who willingly copped to selling art that his staff created (based on his ideas), Kostabi became a sensation by peddling kitsch without airs. And, like all good gimmicks, his brash shenanigans soon became less endearing than insufferable. That's also the case with the present-day Kostabi spied in Michael Sladek's prickly documentary, which details the artist's desperate attempts—via a cable-access game show and a move to Italy that results in a commission from the Pope—to reclaim the spotlight he lost in the '90s. In its subject's desire for attention and validation, the film gets at the pitiful need and loneliness that drives fame whores. Nevertheless, it remains most compelling when bursting Kostabi's self-important bubble, as when art critic Donald Kuspit caustically derides the man's work as "Applebee's aspiring to be Olive Garden."
Kostabi as he attempts to revive his career today.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., March 25-Thurs., March 31. Not rated. 80 minutes.