Movie review: ‘(Untitled)’ paints a quirky picture of the art world

Dana Barbuto

If you’ve ever looked at a painting, photograph or installation and wondered why it was art, you’re not alone. In fact, that’s the premise of Jonathan Parker’s quirky new parody of contemporary art, “(Untitled),” which he directed and co-wrote with Catherine DiNapoli.

The film centers on the relationship between Madeleine (Marley Shelton, “Grindhouse”), a fashionable New York contemporary art gallery owner; Adrian (Adam Goldberg, “Two Days in Paris”), a brooding musician hunting for commercial success; and his brother Josh (Eion Bailey, “Band of Brothers”), a painter seeking artistic acceptance.

Wearing blond hair pulled back tightly in a severe bun and fake librarian glasses, the gorgeous Madeleine puts a lot of stock in appearances. That’s why she won’t date Josh – he’s too mainstream. She prefers Adrian, whom Goldberg infuses with brooding indifference. Even though audiences get up and leave in the middle of his performances, he remains committed to his art, which is composing instrumental music by kicking buckets, crumpling paper and opening and closing zippers on vinyl garments. Adrian calls it music; others call it noise, including his sell-out brother.

Josh’s watercolors hang in hotels and office buildings. He’s the meal ticket for people like Madeleine. The money she makes off Josh enables her to display the work of an artist like Ray Barko (a hilarious over-the-top Vinnie Jones, “Snatch”), whose pieces are stuffed dead animals holding household objects, and Monroe (Ptolemy Slocum), whose pièce de résistance is a doorstop.

Is that art? Madeleine thinks so. In fact, Madeleine is so gangbusters about discovering the next great contemporary artist that she even lets an artist exhibit Post-Its and thumbtacks.

From the absurd objects that pass for art to the eccentric artists, “(Untitled)” is all subtle comedy about the state of contemporary art. Not once does Parker preach what should be considered art, but he does have a good time poking fun at this world of eccentricity and exclusivity.

Stopping just short of caricature, there’s the uber-wealthy art collector (Zak Orth) who has no eye or understanding of art but buys pieces on the notion that it’s important to have. There’s also the gallery assistant (Michael Panes) who functions as Madeleine’s slightly effeminate (there had to be one, right?) artsy-fartsy sidekick.

Like a minimalist work of art, the film runs a compact 96 minutes. It doesn’t do anything profound, but at the end when one young man tells Adrian that he changed his life, the message is clear: All you need to do is to touch one life to make a difference. That’s being an artist, no matter what your canvas is or what level of success you attain.

Reach Dana Barbuto at dbarbuto@ledger.com.

(UNTITLED) (R for language and nude images.) Cast includes Adam Goldberg, Marley Shelton,  Vinnie Jones and Eion Bailey. 3 stars out of 4.