Made You Look is the type of story that both art lovers and detractors love to share in order to laugh or thumb their noses at Modern Art. I mean, who hasn’t made fun of how, when presented with a painting and no context, many experts can’t tell the difference between a “masterpiece” by Jackson Pollock and drips by someone else? Director Barry Avrich documents what may be the largest art fraud in US history, using interviews with almost everyone involved except the forger himself (though they definitely tried to get him).
The documentary drags a little, mostly because it stitches together endless talking heads in rooms, making it feel insular and corporate. The central figure is Ann Friedman, a former dealer at Knoedler who oversaw the sale of fraudulent work. She comes across like an art world caricature, a mixture of ingenue and self-assured scholar, as she matter-of-factly responds to every question with a slightly incredulous tone. The journalists are some of the most entertaining interviewees, but even their perspectives often reinforce rather than illuminate the problems. For example, M.H. Miller, who otherwise has some of the best lines, offers this take on Glafira Rosales, the fraudster whom Friedman trusted the most: “No one knew who this person was. She didn’t have a great pedigree, she was just some lady from Long Island who came to the gallery one day.” Long Island, get it?
The collectors (and to a degree the FBI as well) get to play the good guys and fulfill their fantasies of being cultural superheroes, which makes the film less interesting than it could’ve been. When you’re surrounded by courtiers who serve your every need, are you really surprised when a few of them end up being jesters and sycophants? Collectors dominate the blue-chip art world, but they’re apparently blameless (though definitely vindictive) here. Instead a Mexican-born woman from Long Island and a Chinese-born artist from Queens are the main “culprits,” which seems ridiculous. (The FBI chose not to charge Friedman. Whiteness, I tell ya.) Sure, scholar Jack Flam made mistakes, but he mostly fesses up to it. Same with David Anfam and some others in the film. But it’s the system that stinks. How could works by artists so well-documented not be discovered sooner?
At the end of the film, Friedman maintains her obliviousness and steely resolve: “It seems to me that on the day [I was] supposed to take the stand … that day they settle? They didn’t want the defense to go. I’m not even gonna say they didn’t want Ann Friedman to take the stand, but I think that is what people were waiting for.” The disconnect is incredible.
What the film does successfully demonstrate is that the age of the art connoisseur is not long for this world. As values continue to rise, science will instead be used to assure the value of the luxury art object. At one point in the film, someone points out that when you love something like a painting, you don’t see the flaws. All I see here are flaws, but I guess that’s because unlike the filmmaker, I’m not in love with rich people and their things.
Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art is available to stream on Netflix.