“There’ll at all times be one other younger artist who has one thing to say.” So concludes Brian Vincent’s debut documentary Make Me Famous, which chronicles the life and weird disappearance of the late painter Edward Brezinski (1954–2007), who died in obscurity a long time after many in his Neo-Expressionist cohort rose to fame. However what precisely did Brezinski need to say? The movie doesn’t actually inform us. If something, the title gestures towards the artist’s most salient trait: Brezinski desperately wished to be wealthy and well-known.
Raised in suburban Michigan, Brezinski, who graduated from the celebrated San Francisco Institute of Artwork, is described by a bevy of artwork world speaking heads — together with David McDermott, Peter McGough, and Sur Rodney Sur — as “assured,” “intense,” and “fearless,” together with “awkward, uncomfortable in his pores and skin.” “He exuded a sort of [sexuality] to me that was very arresting,” recounts Sur. “The one different artist[s] that I can keep in mind had that sort of direct exuberance and intention [are] Basquiat and Richard Hofmann.”
However Brezinski was not Basquiat, and even his closest buddies and colleagues appear torn about his relevance. Whereas the doc offers a vivid image of the vigorous East Village scene, it does little to show that the painter ought to have risen to the highest. (If something, it exposes how difficult it should have been to make artwork whereas dwelling in squalor.)
To be truthful, it’s not straightforward to make a documentary about somebody who’s little recognized and now not alive, and even more durable when there’s restricted audio or video footage of that particular person. It’s arduous to inform if Brezinski is being sarcastic or mischievous, cheekily mugging for the lens or smugly self-aggrandizing; the audio is very arduous to make out. Chris McKim’s 2020 documentary on David Wojnarowicz, Wojnarowicz: F**ok You F*ggot F**ker, benefited enormously from the sheer quantity of cassette tapes obtainable after the artist’s loss of life. Vincent makes the many of the sources at hand — archival pictures and interviews with East Village artists — however he by no means shares why he’s so enamored of the painter, or why he’s so essential. We are supposed to take this as a given. However it isn’t.
Make Me Well-known additionally skirts a few of Brezinki’s extra troubling habits. When uptown gallerist Annina Nosei snubs the artist’s good friend Kenny Scharf, Brezinski throws a glass of crimson wine in her face at Scharf’s present in SoHo a number of weeks later. Nosei, now 84, recounts calling the police, feeling “menaced” by the artist, afraid to return throughout him on the road. The complete account is performed as amusing, as if Nosei’s intellectual standing makes accosting her acceptable. On this second, and a handful of others, Brezinksi comes throughout as an entitled alcoholic whose misogyny and conceitedness had been pardoned on the time, and even at the moment by the doc, as a result of he was supposedly some missed genius — he actually considered himself as such.
The movie shifts from an account of the East Village scene to a veritable whodunit when the crew heads to France with Brezinski’s buddies, Marguerite Van Cook dinner and James Romberger, to see whether or not Edward did really die or, as Vincent places it, “faked his loss of life.” When his loss of life certificates lastly turns up in Cannes, it’s performed as out as a large twist, however the premise felt far-fetched to start with. We all know that Brezinksi struggled for many years with alcoholism, to not point out ranges of indigence that, throughout his Berlin years within the ’90s, bordered on abjection.
The issue with Make Me Well-known isn’t that it exposes how tough it actually was to be an artist in Eighties New York, and even that it follows the lifetime of a troubled, morally fraught protagonist. Each of those are essential to redressing an oft-glamorized interval in artwork historical past. The issue is that it usually scans as an homage to a previous period “purer” than right now, however then presents ample proof on the contrary: artists going out of their technique to infiltrate what would later turn out to be the blue-chip gallery circuit, Brezinski shamelessly self-promoting himself at each occasion and get together.
Different current artwork docs — Lea Glob’s Apolonia, Apolonia (2023) and David Gutnik’s Rule of Two Partitions (2023) — do a a lot stronger job displaying the struggles of artists making work towards vital odds. Even when nobody “makes you well-known,” that doesn’t imply you turn out to be an asshole.
Make Me Famous is at the moment screening in New York and shall be in theaters nationwide beginning in September.