(director/writer: Amei Wallach; cinematographer: Danny Moder; editor: Rob Tinworth; music: Chee Wei Tay; cast: Alice Denney, Calvin Tomkins, Janet Begneaud, Louis Menand, Hiroko Ikegami, Christo, Michael Krenn, Irving Sandler, Carolee Schneemann, Robert Storr, Mark Bradford, Philip Rylands; Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Andrea Miller, Tal “Should appeal to art lovers.Mandil, Vanessa Bergonzoli, Amei Wallach; Zeitgeist Films/Kino Lorber release; 2023)

“Should appeal to art lovers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-crafted documentary that should appeal to art lovers. It informs us about the plot to rig the jury selection of the 1964 Venice Biennale so that the talented American artist Robert Rauschenberg would be the winner. The iconic Pop Art artist did in 1964 win the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale (which features an international exhibition of contemporary art work). This film tells us what went on in secret so Rauschenberg could win.

It’s directed as if a Hollywood mystery story with intrigue for scandal by the art critic and director of fine arts films Amei Wallach (“Louise  Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine”/”Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here”). Thankfully she had no talking heads in the pic, but instead filled the screen with archival footage and interviews. What it could have also offered was more info on the work of the groundbreaking SOHO artist.

Noted central figures of the art community like Alan Solomon (curator), Alice Denney (Washington insider), and Leo Castelli (NYC art dealer) steer Rauschenberg’s edgy new art work across conservative criticism in the art world and use geopolitical maneuvering to get America to compete with the Europeans and Soviets (during the height of the Cold War) for prominence in the art world.

The non-linear film is all over the map in its storytelling and a bit heavy-handed at times, but is always enjoyable as it readily gets to the action that took place at the esteemed Venice Biennale exhibition in 1964, that has long been dominated by Europeans. It tells us about the accusations of cheating aimed at a U.S. delegation, which was exercising undue influence on the judging panel.

The sometimes fascinating documentary is set against the backdrop of sociopolitical unrest and creative innovation back home, that causes a problematic shift in the global artistic landscape.

Although the film bogs down at times, it still has enough tension to make for a suspenseful yarn.