Sunday, June 30, 2013

Boogie Woogie

by Drew Martin
Yesterday I watched Boogie Woogie, which is a caricature of the contemporary London art world, adapted by Danny Moynihan from his book Boogie Woogie, about his experiences in the decadent art world of New York in the 1990s. Moynihan based the title on Piet Mondrian's Victory Boogie-Woogie (pictured top right), the artist's last, unfinished work from 1944. Even as an unfinished work Victory Boogie-Woogie is as busy as Broadway Boogie-Woogie: Mondrain completed it in 1943 when he was 70 - his De Stijl was energized by his love for boogie-woogie music, through which he interpreted the mid-town Manhattan street grid as a jazzy play of color blocks. 

The so-called Boogie-Woogie (pictured top, left) in the movie is much sparer, like Mondrian's earlier Composition paintings, or even more like Frank Lloyd Wright's stained glass windows, which were influenced by Mondrian. Actually, the closest match (and I wonder if this is by accident/coincidence or is a clever nod to the re-location of the setting of the story to London) is Modrian's Trafalgar Square, the first in a series of paintings titled after locations in cities that gave him refuge during World War II. 

This might explain why Heather Graham, who plays a gallery director in the film, claims it is Mondrian's first Boogie-Woogie painting. I am not really sure where this film prop version came from; if it is a reproduced detail of a larger piece or if the props artist just winged it - most likely the latter. 

The actual similarity in Boogie Woogie, is with Boogie Nights, about the California porn industry in the 1970s and 80s. A young blond rollerblading gallery assistant in Boogie Woogie played by Amanda Seyfried references Graham's rollerskating character from Boogie Nights. And Boogie Woogie shows just as loose a culture, with a rotation of affairs between gallerists, artists and collectors. I would write that the promiscuity portrayed in this film is ironic, since Mondrian believed in the spiritual hermaphrodite... 

“The artist is asexual. The man-artist is female and male at the same time; therefore he does not need a woman.”

...but the stalwart protector of the Mondrian voices his disgust for the hedonistic art world. This elderly, dying character, Mr. Alfred Rhinegold (played by Christopher Lee) repeatedly turns down his wife's request to sell his Mondrian to save them from financial ruin. Rhinegold claims he bought the painting from Mondrian in his studio for £500. Money of course is as ubiquitous as sex in the film. One of the gallery owners eventually makes a deal with Mrs. Rhinegold for 28 million, insured for 40 million (not sure if they are speaking in $ or £). In the end, the painting burns up with a dying Rhinegold when he drops his lit cigar on the carpet and sparks a fire. The real Victory Boogie-Woogie was purchased in 1998 for €35 million and is in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

This movie is often more about the bare breasts of the actresses than it is about Mondrian or the working of galleries. It is not a great film but is worth seeing for the art references. The comedy is often innocent, such as the scene (pictured here, middle) when one of the art collectors/wife of a gallery owner moves a Brancusi Endless Column back to where she likes it in her house after her husband put it in the middle of the room. The humor is sometimes quite dark, such as when the young rollerblading Seyfried ends up having an emergency operation to remove a teratoma, and her gallery-owner boss (who is trying to get in her pants) has the large cyst encased in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst (pictured here, bottom).

Click here to watch the trailer for Boogie Woogie