Home Magazine "Velvet Buzzsaw" - Netflix's Horror Art Movie

Just a few days ago, we were talking about the ever-increasing presence of Contemporary Art in the Movies. This is in part due to cinemas ability to work as a great mirror, reflecting the interests of sociaty back at us, and art has become a new and wildly popular topic for the general public. 

But which parts of a typically opaque art system do people really understand? Over the weekend I saw Netflix's new Velvet Buzzsaw, directed by Dan Gilroy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and I have to admit that I was quite surprised. I don’t want to spoil too much, I promise, but there are many aspects of this gripping drama that deserve our attention.

This horror-art movie kicks off during Art Basel Miami Beach when the protagonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) announces himself at the VIP desk as “Morf Vanderwalt, Artweb.” We are carefully introduced to the other main characters, such as Josephina (Zawe Ashton) who works for a tough, gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), who was formerly a member of the rock band Velvet Buzzsaw. Morf is unfulfilled in his own love life with his boyfriend Ed, and so starts a sexual relationship with Josephina. Returning back to Los Angeles, Josephina finds a dead man called Vetril Dease in her apartment block and having discovered that he was an artist, enters his home to discover a myriad of paintings. Josephina then steals the paintings to show Morf and Rhodora who both become fascinated with Dease and see an opportunity to sell the pieces to the public. Josephina begins exhibiting the artwork at the request of Rhodora. If you want to keep up to date with the latest artistic movies, don't miss our article about, “At Eternity's Gate”, directed by Julian Schnabel...


Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) speaks with art critic Morf Vanderwalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Velvet Buzzsaw. Image courtesy Netflix


Morf's friend, the art curator Gretchen (Toni Collette) and a former abstract artist for the Haze Gallery, Piers (John Malkovich), become equally enamoured with Dease's work. The pieces are shown in a successful public exhibition in which industry professionals intend to purchase them. Under orders from Rhodora to ensure the rarity of the paintings, gallery worker Bryson (Billy Magnussen) transports half of the paintings to storage. While transporting them, out of curiosity, he opens a crate and decides to keep one of the artworks for himself. En route, he accidentally crashes his car when lit cigarette ash disposed on a painting causes severe burns. This is only the first disappearance, because thereafter whoever owns a Dease work is quickly killed by the canvas subject in a cruel yet ironic way. (Read the full plot on Wikipedia)


Gretchen (Toni Collette) speaks with art critic Morf Vanderwalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Velvet Buzzsaw. Image courtesy Netflix


Indeed, what I found most terrifying, more than the different murders made by this “ghost painter”, is the report about the underlying dynamics of the art system. The continuous blackmail between art dealers, critics and museum managers, in order to promote new artists and exhibitions. The precariousness and maltreatment towards many industry insiders like gallery interns. The different ways to manipulate works and prices to increase the value of the artworks on the market. It would appear that the director’s aim is to show how much rot there is behind what from outside looks full of ethical and cultural values. Are we in front of another movie, satirically damning the art world, such as was the case with Ruben Östlund's "The Square", 2017? Maybe it's just my personal perception, and I hope each of you will have your own point of view, but while I was watching the movie, this is the part that most troubled me.

Since capitalism has fully entered into the logic of art, it seems that day by day the system is missing the true purpose and value of the art in question. The motivations for which art is helpful for all the society and for those people that with commitment and heavy sacrifices, are working every day for the full enjoyment of all. This might be the real nightmare. The prophetic words of Guy Debord come to mind - French Marxist theorist, a founding member of the Situationist International - author of the important book "La société du spectacle":

The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep. [...] Only a fragile shield of the revolution separated a generation from integration into the spectacle. [...] The show won because it was able to absorb any form of opposition by making it its own. There can not be "against" shows. [...] Only silence can fight the show.


Poster for Velvet Buzzsaw. Image courtesy Netflix


Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.