Every so often I find myself tittering during a play or a movie, provoked by seeing a target so well hit.
Such was the case while watching Boogie Woogie, first-time director Duncan Ward’s dead-on satire of the contemporary art world that is loved by the very audience it savages.
Written and produced by Danny Moynihan, the movie expertly skewers the current London art scene, though it was actually based on a roman à clef Moynihan published in 2000, set in 1990s New York. But avarice, greed, and jealousy travel well, it seems.
John Currin’s wife, Rachel Feinstein, chortled throughout, particularly during the divorce negotiations: “My favorite scene hands down—I love that they were arguing over ‘the Currin.’”
With few exceptions, everybody in this movie uses and screws everybody else, often literally.
At the center of the action—and the guessing game of who inspired each character—is über-dealer Art Spindle (Danny Huston). Alternatively charming and explosive, he is a cross between Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling (thanks to the oversized glasses). Spindle will stop at nothing to pry a prized Mondrian painting off the wall of an elderly London collector, Alfred Rhinegold, played by Christopher Lee. (In the mid-1980s, Gagosian persuaded a Connecticut couple to sell him Mondrian’s Victory Boogie Woogie, which he then sold to Si Newhouse for $12 million.)
Along the way, a succession of other rapacious characters flock to the Spindle Gallery. Numero uno collector Bob Maclestone (Stellan Skarsgard) secretly plots to buy the Mondrian directly, abetted by his mistress, Beth (Heather Graham), who is Spindle’s assistant—until Maclestone buys her a gallery of her own. Spindle reacts to her betrayal by promoting a younger, even more comely gallerina, Paige (Amanda Seyfried) to his office, then his bedroom.
Meanwhile, Maclestone’s wife, Jean (Gillian Anderson) has hardly been idle. After falling in lust with a handsome rising art star, Jo Richards (Jack Huston), who builds weird fun-house installations that recall Carsten Holler, Jean asks for divorce. Negotiations over the division of the couple’s art collection quickly go nuclear, thanks in large part to her ruthless attorney (Charlotte Rampling). The most predatory character of all, however, is Elaine (Jaime Winstone), a lesbian video artist who literally makes a show of her extreme sexual exhibitionism (heavy shades of Tracey Emin). She seduces or destroys all who come into her path. In the latter category is Dewey (Alan Cumming), an aspiring curator who launches her career, then gets dumped just before Elaine’s debut, at Beth’s new gallery.
While Boogie Woogie has sadly had a short, unpublicized theatrical run—it is now available on IFC On Demand—the art stars who have seen it, adore it. Rachel Feinstein and her husband, John Currin, chortled throughout, she reports, particularly during the divorce negotiations: “My favorite scene hands down—I love that they were arguing over ‘the Currin.’”
Like most viewers, however, Feinstein is flummoxed over whom the Maclestones are based on.
“There are so many couples who fit that bill,” she says of the avaricious pair. “It must be a conglomeration of about five couples.”
In spite of that unresolved guessing game, London dealer Ivor Braka says, “It absolutely gets to the heart of the hard-heartedness of the art world….and it’s hilarious.”
Moynihan understood the art world intimately when he wrote the novel. The London-born son of prominent collectors, he moved to New York in the early 1990s, where he worked in galleries and shared a loft with Damien Hirst (sublet from Jasper Johns). Hirst, listed in the credits as “art curator,” lent some of his own pieces to the film, and selected a large assortment of others from his most fashionable peers; owing to the insurance costs that would have been incurred by using the actual works, they were then copied, with the artists’ permissions.
Reached by phone, Moynihan was coy about fingering specific people as models for his characters. “They are all amalgams,” he says. “Spindle is not Jay [Jopling], per se. When I was writing the book I had a lot of people in my head. There was Howard Reed’s laugh, a bit of Arne Glimcher….the rapaciousness, the tremendous ambition.”
Duncan Ward, who has a number of documentaries and commercials on his credits, also has serious art world bona fides. His wife, aristocratic curator Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, formerly ran Gagosian’s London gallery and now works for Dasha Zhukova, the Moscow gallerist and girlfriend of the Russian billionaire art collector Roman Abramovich.
“It’s quite close to the bone,” Ward admits about his film. “Everybody has been picking it apart trying to figure out who is supposed to be who. But the only people really put out are the ones not in it.”