Art and Craft opens with shots of an impossibly slim, small, unassuming man in his late 50s, completely bald except for a tiny ring of hair at the very back, shopping in a crafts supply store.
So that's Mark A. Landis, the devilishly brilliant artist and confidence trickster who unloaded hundreds of forgeries on art museums across the country?
What's he doing there?
Codirected by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, and Mark Becker, Art and Craft is a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating documentary about Landis' amazing feats as a forger and con man.
For more than 20 years, until he was unmasked in 2008, Landis forged hundreds of pieces of art - from ancient illuminated manuscript pages to watercolors, drawings, and paintings by Louis Valtat, Paul Signac, Marie Laurencin, Stanislas Lépine, and Daumier. They were so convincing that Landis' creations were gobbled up by art institutions and displayed with much pomp and circumstance.
What an amazing crook! He must have been rolling in cash.
Yet, as with so many things in this story, all is not what it seems. Landis didn't make a penny. He donated the pieces, telling museum curators he was carrying out the wishes of his recently departed (and entirely imaginary) sister.
His approach was pure genius: By giving the stuff away, he dispelled any suspicions. After all, what crook cooks up such exquisite forgeries, only to dump them free?
Landis didn't do it to get rich. An exquisitely complex man who was found to have schizophrenia when he was 17 and who has been in treatment for most of his life, he did it for the satisfaction of fooling museum experts.
Because he didn't make money off his cons and because his deceptions were aimed at experts who ought to have known better, Landis was never arrested - he hadn't really broken any laws - except perhaps for the one that says a certain small cabal of art historians and curators know more about art than the rest of us schleppers.
Which brings us to the most telling irony about Landis' work: He didn't create his forgeries using rare, aged pigments and antique canvases, but rather with cheap materials he picked up at the local craft store.
"Put this into one of those Wal-mart frames," Landis says on camera as he shows off one of his gorgeous faux masterpieces, "and it looks like a million dollars."