A film with its own art curator? ‘Inside’ heist movie’s efforts to ‘make it legit’

Most films set in the art world have no curator. Vassilis Katsoupis’ Inside did – and commissioned original contemporary works to complement it.

Set entirely in a New York City penthouse, the film follows an art thief named Nemo (Willem Dafoe) who arrives to steal a collection of Egon Schiele paintings. When the heist goes awry, Nemo is trapped inside with the paintings, sculptures and installations collected by the unseen owner. As he is forced to survive in the inhospitable apartment, Nemo takes to the works – and uses some of them to keep himself alive.

To create the collection, Katsoupis partnered with Italian art curator Leonardo Bigazzi. Some of the works appear in Ben Hopkins’ script for the film, while others have been commissioned or borrowed from artists and galleries.

“There was a very clear vision of the goal … some of the work had to be done,” explains Bigazzi. “From the mundane aspect of having a pointed metal sculpture that can be used to open up the basement to more complex narrative elements.”

“I had an idea for the collection in my mind, but I needed an expert to make it legal,” Katsoupis adds. “We’ve seen too many movies that are about art and most of the time the art is fake or look like it. I really wanted everything in my film to be very, very correct.”

Dozens of real-life works fill the penthouse, including works by Francesco Clemente, Maurizio Cattelan, John Armleder, Alvaro Urbano, Maxwell Alexander, David Horwitz, and Joanna Piotrowski. Here, Katsupis and Bigazzi explain the intent behind six of the most memorable.

Francesco Clemente, After and Before (2021)

Several artworks appear exclusively on “Inside.” For one, Bigazzi turned to Italian artist Francesco Clemente for an original commission influenced by an existing work, Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth.

“Everybody knows it’s in the MOMA collection, so it would be impossible for our collector to own this artwork,” Katsoupis says. “For me, this is art [about] this figure who is alone in this field and feels vulnerable because Christina cannot move. We asked Francesco to take inspiration from this and make his own stand.”

“‘Christina’s World’ is not a landscape with a woman; it’s really like a psychological portrait of the impossibility of reaching something that’s unattainable,” adds Bigazzi. “The role that this work had in the script was this idea of ​​Willem looking at this painting and imagining the possibility of reaching this woman as much as he is eager to reach the outside world. The Clemente style is a very recognizable watercolor style. This is a piece that any art connoisseur or professional would instantly recognize.”

Petrit Halilai, “Do you realize there’s a rainbow even though it’s night!?” (2020)

Dubbed “The Moth” by the filmmakers, “Do You Realize There’s a Rainbow Even at Night!?” is a follow-up to Kosovar artist Petrit Halilai’s series for the 2017 Venice Biennale. Bigazzi commissioned the piece specifically for Inside to be mounted on the wall of the penthouse, and as Defoe toured the art on set with Katsupis, he decided to dress it up as a costume.

“He said, ‘I’m going to be cold as hell. Why don’t I wear this?”’ Bigazzi recalls. “And that became one of the most iconic images in the movie, where he wears this moth, becoming almost like a shaman.”

Maurizio Cattelan, “Untitled” (1999)

A print of Maurizio Cattelan’s work, also known as A Perfect Day, shows an installation at the Massimo de Carlo Gallery in Milan, where the artist has taped his gallerist to the wall. It was Cattelan’s first time using tape (most recently he taped a banana to a wall at Art Basel), and his intention was to reverse the power dynamics of the gallery world.

“For me, this job was perfect because Nemo finds himself in a situation where he’s there to steal and ends up in prison,” says Bigazzi. “That idea of ​​power structure and control is turned upside down.”

Later in the film, Nemo destroys the non-scripted imprint.

“Because they shot chronologically, Willem had a lot of time on set to negotiate his relationship with the works,” Bigazzi recalls. “From the beginning, we negotiated the fact that any damage to the work that happened had to be for the survival of the character, whether it was physical or psychological. I called Maurizio to ask him and he was really excited.”

“That happened many times in the movie,” Katsoupis adds. “You have these pieces of art that get new life in the film, even if it wasn’t intended to happen in the script. It happened organically while we were shooting.”

Burst Burst, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (2003)

Serbian video artist Breda Beban, who died in 2012, was Katsupis’ teacher and mentor during his screen arts MA program in England, and the director wanted to pay tribute to her in his film. Two of Beban’s works appear in “Inside”: a small inkjet print titled “Arte Vivo (No. 8)” and an eight-minute video installation on two screens, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

“The script is simple: it’s a form of entertainment for him,” Katsoupis says of the video. “It’s like a little movie theater. It is the only piece of art that has dialogue and has some movement. You can’t get any channels on the TV – everything is destroyed except for those screens.

“The work is about a couple who share the same cinematic space,” explains Bigazzi. “You realize they’re in the same room and sitting at the same table, but because they’re on two different screens, it’s like they’ve never met [each other]. It’s a love that can’t happen. There is a similar impossibility of connection between Willem’s character and the woman [he watches] of video surveillance. This also becomes a discourse on metacinema: although the audience is in the same exchange with Nemo, [they] she would never rise to the level of being there with him, inside the house, trapped.

Joanna Piotrovska, Untitled Series (2015-17)

A few years ago, Polish artist Joanna Piotrowski asked friends around the world to build shelters in their homes with objects lying around. The result was a series of images of makeshift shelters. The artwork reflects what Katsupis imagined Nemo would eventually build in the maisonette.

“It’s about the idea of ​​building your own unsafe haven in the home environment with the illusion that it’s something that protects you, but you’re actually extremely vulnerable,” says Bigazzi. “The shots of Joanna appear early on when the house is still completely pristine and perfect, and then it’s almost as if the shelter materializes in space later in the film.”

Nemo’s towering sculptural shelter, built on set by production designer Torsten Sabel, was created with furniture and some real art.

“It looks like an art installation,” notes Katsoupis.

David Horwitz, “All the Time That Will Come After This Moment” (2019)

A neon light sculpture created by Los Angeles-based artist David Horvitz hangs prominently in the collector’s apartment. In the first half of the film, the nine words of the sculpture are perfectly illuminated. Later, after the water pours over the walls, only three remain: “after this moment.”

“The magic of the cinema is when the water [came in] half of the sentence is left out. It wasn’t intentional – it happened on set,” Katsoupis says.

“It really becomes a perfect statement of generative possibilities when you put art in a different context,” adds Bigazzi. “In the film, really after that point everything is different because there is water on the floor. The fact that this happened by chance shows that some things, when activated in a certain way, take on a life of their own.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Originally published

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