Mark Landis is one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history. For over 30 years, Landis has forged over 100 pieces, donating them to 46 museums in 20 states. Suffering from mental illness, Landis describes himself as having an “addiction to philanthropy” and finds himself continuing to create forgeries, even though he knows it is wrong. Landis catches the attention of a registrar named Matthew Leininger, who makes it his personal mission to expose Landis and put a stop to this decades-long ruse.
While watching Art and Craft, I was reminded of a scene from the film American Hustle, where Christian Bale’s character of Irving Rosenfeld goes over to a forged Rembrandt painting and says “People believe what they want to believe because the guy who made this was so good that it's real to everybody. Now who's the master, the painter or the forger?” Mark Landis is an exceptional artist with a photographic memory and has fooled museums for decades, with his carefully reproduced paintings. Landis uses little more than coloured pencils to create his forgeries, which still have an exceptional level of detail, which makes it difficult for the untrained eye to tell the forgeries from the originals.
Because Landis has never received money for his forgeries, he technically isn’t committing a crime. However, this doesn’t stop Matthew Leininger from obsessively continuing his Catch Me If You Can-like cat and mouse game with Landis. In some ways, Leininger is a little too determined to catch Landis, however that is part of what makes Art and Craft such a fun documentary to watch. In fact, one of the greatest moments of the film is at an exhibition of Landis’ forgeries, where the two finally come face-to-face with each other.
With a history of mental illness, including schizophrenia, Mark Landis probably barely understands that creating forged paintings is a bad thing to do. Landis mentions at one point that he is addicted to being a philanthropist and he probably couldn’t stop forging paintings even if he really wanted to. Landis has no delusions of having a serious art career and he seems perfectly content at doing the type of “arts and crafts” that he enjoys.
Altogether, Mark Landis is an immensely interesting person to watch and it is amazing that this simple-minded man was able to fool so many museums. This interesting character is what makes Art and Craft a very enjoyable story, which would seem right at home in a Hollywood caper film.
9 | REALLY LIKED IT
Art and Craft opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema