Thursday, November 7, 2019

When art really does meet life

Mostly we think of art as something separate from ourselves, something we go someplace to see, a gallery or a museum. We think of art as something visited rather than as an outpouring of creativity that grows organically -- and perhaps surprisingly -- from our own surroundings. The documentary Gift counters that notion. Basing her film on Lewis Hyde's book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (1983), director Robin McKenna introduces us to a variety of art environments. You'll find The Metropoliz Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere in a building in Rome that once housed a sausage factory. More than a place to view art, the museum also provides homes for 200 migrant families. Another example: Marcus Alfred, a native American chief in the Pacific Northwest carves a totem for a potlatch, a ceremony in which participants give away their belongings. A bee-keeper constructs a giant mechanical bee that she brings to Burning Man, the annual festival in Nevada. Gift seems designed to make viewers question the commercialization of art and to think about what it might mean if we gave things away without expecting anything in return. McKenna’s documentary can seem like a bit of a stunt, but for the 90 minutes it takes to watch Gift, it's possible to surrender to its spirit. Why not -- if only for an hour and a half -- feel better about the world and the motives of those who occupy it?

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