directed by Barbara Visser
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 26-May 6, 2018 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Angelo Muredda Barnett Newman's divisive abstract painting "Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III" becomes both a forensic site and a compelling structural absence in Dutch conceptual artist Barbara Visser's debut feature The End of Fear. What might have been an annoyingly palatable art doc about Gerard Jan van Bladeren's vandalism of the painting in 1986 (van Bladeren was so outraged by the work's abrasive shock of red, dramatic asymmetry, and obstinate refusal of representationalism that he decided he had to slash it) and subsequent failed restoration becomes something more slippery and interesting care of Visser's puckishness as not only a filmmaker but also a presence on screen, where we see her coolly hiring a hungry grad student to create a close reproduction of her own, apparently in the filmmaker's name. Though the project suffers at times from the preciousness of its noncommittal form--spanning everything from the expected talking heads lecturing about the painting's mixed critical reception and tabloid history to process-based interludes of Visser's hired gun hard at work, to abstract top-down tableaux of unnamed, black-clad gallery workers mapping out the painting's history on the jet-black floor with masking tape and archival photos--for the most part its free-roaming approach to questions of valuation, ownership, and work in contemporary art feels playful in the right way, opening up a number of avenues for discussion out of what feels like genuine curiosity.