It's not often that Binghamton gets international media attention, especially for something that's cool or, at least, not related to a toxic spill or something. So it was pretty exciting when John was reading The New Yorker last week and learned that a documentary was coming out about a local artist, and that it was coming to theaters (including Binghamton) in limited release.
Last night, we got to see the movie on opening night, along with the Director, and followed by a Q & A panel hosted by the local gallery that launched the artist to international acclaim in 2004.
If you are still confused by the photo I posted, then you haven't figured out that the artist who attracted all this media attention is a 4 year old Binghamton girl named Marla Olmstead. Her work is abstract oil on canvas, and has great titles like Sick Teeth, Lollipop House, and Ocean.
Here's the 20-second-version: her abstract painting first hangs in a local coffee shop as sort of a joke, someone buys it for $250, local gallery owner thinks they have merit, launches showing of her work with attendant press releases, media frenzy follows work sells for thousands of dollars (I think like $10,000 to $20,000 at its peak), 60 Minutes does a scathing piece that suggests her dad has an undue influence in the work- that he at least coaches her and at most finishes the work off for her- and implies that it's all a fraud, the wheels come off the Marla train and sales of her work come to a screeching halt, the parents try to defend and make their own video of her actually painting the work, the family and gallery owner have been dragged through the mud, no one seems to be speaking to each other anymore, and. . .
That's about when I arrived in B-town. I haven't heard much about this girl or the surrounding controversy because I didn't live here when it was all going down (although I had met the gallery owner back in 2004 and he told me about Marla himself, and I was shocked to go back to LA and read about her in the local paper!) Marla matters seem to have been relatively quiet around here for the past year or two, so I didn't really know much of the story.
And MAN, is there a story. But it's not what you think. I thought the movie was going to be about abstract art, who determines what is "art" and what it should cost, and certainly whether she was the true artist behind the work.
Sure, the movie covers those bases, but it raises so many more issues that are- to my amazement- even more interesting than the ones I had initially expected. Nothing gets resolved, but the movie . . . I can't even put words to it. I told John that I think we'll be talking about this movie for at least a year, there are so many parts to it. My favorite issues were the ones about "storytelling" and also media ethics and how the media machine works (clips from the interview with the journalist from the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin were particularly outstanding).
I'm going to cut myself off here because there is way too much to write about. The movie, "My Kid Could Paint That," from super sweet and extremely articulate director Amir Bar-Lev, was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival in January, so Sony Pictures bought it for $2 million. I'm hoping that means it will at least be available to rent on DVD soon. (A bonus is all the great footage of our Binghamton "First Friday" monthly art walks downtown that I love so much!) Oh, and if you rent it, be sure to check out the "Directors Cuts" or whatever they call those bonus parts at the end of the thing- they taped the Q & A we were at last night- we might be in the background? - but mostly I reference this because the Q & A with the director (and others) was particularly fascinating- I felt like I was on a jury and we were all trying to figure out what the "truth" was, but no one could get a lock on it. Really excellent questions and discussion.
P.S. Icing on this media-cake is the obligatory misspelling of "Binghampton" in one of the movie release informationals! I'm going to have to have John bust out the "Ain't No P in Binghamton" tshirt I had made for him last year.