Spinal Tap of the art world? 

Jepson Center to screen rare '70s mockumentary

WHEN MOST folks hear the term “mockumentary,” one name likely comes to mind: Christopher Guest.

Better known for his role as the hapless British heavy metal guitarist Nigel Tufnel in Rob Reiner’s pioneering 1984 faux rock music documentary This Is Spinal Tap, Guest has parlayed the fame and success of that role into a successful niche in the U.S. film biz.

He directs and co-writes shockingly realistic and —at times— scathingly funny motion pictures which bear the trappings of cinema vérité but which are in fact elaborate, sardonic constructs aimed at taking the piss out of such venerated societal subcultures as obsessive dog owners (Best In Show), small-town community theater (Waiting For Guffman) and the American folk music revival of the 1960s (A Mighty Wind).

However, the notion of faux or “mockumentaries” existed long before the SNL alumnus handily made it his own.

This Thursday, the Jepson Center will screen a rather early —and little-known— example of the genre in tandem with its current gallery exhibition Robert Colescott: Troubled Goods. The exhibition focuses on the Tuscon, Az.-based painter’s work of the last decade, but also includes classic works of his from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

An emeritus professor of art at the University of Arizona, Colescott studied at the American Research Center in Cairo during the mid-‘60s. Calling his time in Egypt “formative,” he told Artforum Magazine that exposure to “3,000 years of a ‘non-white’ art tradition” excited him, ultimately inspiring the Oakland, Ca. native him to express ideas about race and culture in the U.S. through his own artwork.

Beginning in 1975, he began a series of paintings that appropriated —and skewed— classic pieces of Western art, substituting black protagonists for white characters in re-imagined versions of works such as Van Gogh’s famed Potato Eaters (recast as Eat Dem Taters). Soon, his provocative, sardonic and, it must be said, beautifully rendered work earned him a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and posited him as a unique critical voice on matters of race, sex, culture and the history of art history itself.

He would later be awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. However, even those with little innate interest in the world of high-concept fine art painting should be able to appreciate the clever wit of Colescott’s 45-minute 1976 film Dulacrow’s Masterwork.

Presented as a legit filmed document of a serious art history slide lecture, this rarely-shown piece of performance art purports to explain the importance of the painting “Liberty Leading the People” by “Dulacrow” (the artist’s own alter ego) — based on the work of the same title by famed French painter Eugene Delacroix.

Narrated by Colescott himself, the film bears little resemblance to the Spinal Tap variety of mockumentaries most audiences will be familiar with. It’s essentially a series of still images paired with a dry, “academic” voice-over which lies squarely at odds with the film’s graphic and provocative on-screen imagery.

Harry DeLorme, Jepson’s Senior Curator of Education, is quick to point out that, as one critic noted, viewers are not sure whether they should “laugh or cringe” at the combination — as with the deadpan, politically incorrect antics of Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Following the film, a second, 30-minute (actual) documentary entitled Robert Colescott the One Two Punch will be screened. This film includes interviews with the artist and curators, and footage of Colescott at work. cs

Dulacrow’s Masterwork: A Mockumentary Film by Robert Colescott

When: Thursday, 6 pm

Where: Jepson Center for The Arts

Cost: Free to Telfair/Jepson Members or with regular Museum Admission

Info: telfair.org


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Jim Reed

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