The best history of the French dispatch reveals the violence between art and commerce

Rosenthaler hesitates to sell the painting, Simone Naked, Cell Block J Hobby Room, when Julian Cadazio (Brody’s dealer who is briefly incarcerated for the white-collar crime of sales tax evasion) kindly makes his way into the maximum security unit for the mentally deranged.

“All artists sell all their work, that’s what makes you an artist,” the art dealer explains to the paint-splattered inmate. The other two convicts then proceed to mutual imprisonment. Cadazio makes Rosenthaler one of the greatest visionaries in the art world, based on “a little overstated scribbled image”. The painter sentenced to 50 years in prison is confined to deadlines for the first time in his life but manages to hold the art dealer hostage with promises of perfection. After all, Rosenthaler is a man whose secondary motivation is terror of the Splatter Brigade, other imprisoned performers who taunt each other with threats of serious injury.

Anderson, who also did Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limitedand Moonrise Kingdom, is an obsession. He fills in all the loose scribbles of his subject matter, compulsively objectifying Rosenthaler as a truly tortured artist. Seydoux evokes his inner Morticia Addams by reminding Moses that torture is Simone’s job. She is an electrifying muse and knows how to get her cables started.

Anderson also comments on the construction of an artist. Cadazio wants a biography as a patron, which is as collateral as paint, egg yolks and prison soap brushed on a tarp. Rosenthaler became an art world sensation for his mental illness and violence as much as for his impressionistic visions. Cadazio berates him and presents him as a homicidal maniac, and when the painter completes his collection of masterpieces, madness reveals itself as the true genius. The final paintings are done as frescoes, painted on the concrete walls deep inside the prison. They are here to stay, a testament to the artist, to life and his pain, and to the guardian who gives him a reason to serve his sentence. The artist has hijacked his own work, putting the Cadazio family on the brink of ruin as a ransom for promises kept.

Rosenthaler delivers its rogue gallery collection, on time, and it’s so exquisite it’s worth the price of excavation, removal, and relocation. But the artist is also a budding repeat criminal, he even tried to sexually assault art historian JKL Berensen, as she tells her audience. His latest act of violence earns him his freedom, but the inspiration runs much deeper.

Van Gogh offered a piece of himself for an unattainable love, in what has been called a moment of madness. Simone is going to leave her post as guard at Ennui prison the day after the clandestine opening of the gallery. The paintings are all by Simone, and Rosenthaler immortalized her in a way that would also keep him close to her. Framing is essential to art. Permanence is the palette. It is a deeply personal work.

About Bernice D. Brewer

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