Art’s Pros and Cons

He may be equal parts pompous ass and pathetic shmuck, but it’s hard to argue with Mark Kostabi’s self-assessment in the documentary Con Artist: “Modern art is a con,” he announces. “I am the world’s greatest con artist.”

In the midst of the East Village’s peak as an epicenter of the modern art world in the 1980s, Kostabi was big business. A contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (whose own work has endured far more wholesomely), Kostabi was just as widely known and probably richer, due to a brilliant scheme wherein he employed a small army of minimum-wage assistants to paint their own works of art and then signed his name to those works and sold them at grossly inflated prices as “original forgeries,” raising interesting questions about the nature of originality and value, but mostly just making out with a fat wad of cash. Kostabi eventually fell out of favor and into disgrace, moved to Italy and re-established himself as a credible artist. He now runs a public-access game show where people try to name his work. No, really.

It’s a fascinating story about antics too zany to believe if they weren’t completely true, and it’s gotten favorable reviews from both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times — so much the better for Denver, because director Michael Sládek was born and raised here, worked at the University Hills Cinema (now Chez Artiste) and became part of the arty scene at Paris on the Platte.

The film gets its hometown premiere tonight during a DocNight preview with the director at the Denver FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue, at 7 p.m., and continues through April 21; tickets tonight are $12 to $15 or $7.25 to $9.75 thereafter. For more information, visit href=""> or call 303-595-3456. For an interview with Denver native Michael Sládek, go to
April 14-21, 2011

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte