It’s no wonder that the art world, especially in recent years, has inspired a number of scathing dark comedies — think “Velvet Buzzsaw” or the Palme d’Or winner “The Square,” films that mock the industry’s elitism and its entanglement with capitalism.
“The Art of Making It,” a documentary by Kelcey Edwards, doesn’t entirely depart from those pessimistic fictional portraits. It does, however, offer a more pragmatic, occasionally hopeful, perspective on the visual arts ecosystem and the collectors, gallery owners, curators, critics and artists that play by its rules — or, for better or worse, try to make their own.
“Making It” boasts a number of first-rate talking heads — there’s the famed New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz; the notorious art dealer Stefan Simchowitz; the critic and media influencer known for her art-world memes, Hilde Lynn Helphenstein (a.k.a. Jerry Gogosian). As Edwards jumps to and from these insiders, she traces the careers of several artists, like Jenna Gribbon, a figurative painter whose social media savvy helped launch her career; and Chris Watts, a multimedia artist who was kicked out his M.F.A. program at Yale for not conforming to that institution’s standards of marketability. (Annoyingly, only Gribbon’s work is explored in detail.)
For those unfamiliar with the industry, “Making It” is a decent explainer of its fraught dynamics: the M.F.A.-to-gallery representation pipeline; the desire for more commercial artwork; the mercenary practices of certain buyers and collectors.
But Edwards’s generic approach — heavy on talking heads and explanatory title cards — often yields fuzzy results, with a haphazard rush of information overwhelming the rare moments the documentary settles into a more defined and compelling point of view. And as much as Edwards attempts to cover multiple bases, she’s also looking at the art world through the narrowest peephole — more like the art world establishment, featuring a handful of black sheep.
The Art of Making It
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.