There is no doubt that the contemporary art world is ripe for heavy-duty lampooning, but (Untitled) makes you wish there was a good film on the topic that this mediocre movie fusses on and on about. The barbs need to be funnier and less obvious. The whole emperor-has-no-clothes attack is trite at this point, and, besides, it’s mostly wrong. Most art at least aims to delight, no matter what the general public believes. And because the focus of (Untitled)‘s puny rage is John Cage-like music and Minimalist conceptual art, it seems like this film might have been more poignant 35 years ago.
(Untitled) stars Adam Goldberg as a morose, self-regarding “composer” of that kind of obnoxious tweet, honk, and clatter music that poseurs believe should be well received simply because it defies the expectations of the crass bourgeoisie. So immediately we get the cliched tension between “art” and “commerce”; the sitcom vision of American bohemia, which has little to do with what real experimental work tries to accomplish. Besides, Goldberg’s musician posturing is so ridiculous on its own that it gives the viewer no perspective from which to make fun of the whole trendy-empty art scene it tries to mock.
By the end of the film, you’ll be confused by Goldberg’s apparent moral victory; his hack brother gets a big show in a cutesy beach town and he gets flattered by the waiter at the supposedly vulgar gallery. What’s worse, (Untitled) seems to imply that New York is stupid, and only in the sticks can the love of true beauty be found. Early on in the film, a critic is witheringly called “reactionary,” but, in a way, the whole film seems archly conservative in tone. Despite the other swirly takes on the art world and its discontents, you’ll probably remember Marley Shelton as the sexy, ambitious gallery owner. At least we know where she stands in this film: Without a sense of television-brand humor, she’s just trying to survive.