Rachel Wetzler in The Baffler:
SATIRES OF THE ART WORLD written by incredulous outsiders are often damned before they begin: there’s virtually no absurdist caricature a screenwriter could invent that could suitably exaggerate its pretentiousness or barely concealed venality—these character flaws are played out daily in earnest. In 2015, a mentally ill attendee at Art Basel Miami Beach stabbed another visitor with an X-Acto knife; it took onlookers a few minutes to realize that the blood was real. At the ARCO Madrid art fair in 2007, members of the more-or-less uncategorizable art organization e-flux—under the heading unitednationsplaza—gathered an international gang of artists, curators, and critics to participate in a self-flagellating mock trial whose charges included colluding with the “new” bourgeoisie. The artist Santiago Sierra has, on several occasions, paid drug addicts and sex workers to tattoo black lines across their backs; Damien Hirst sold a skull encrusted with fourteen million British pounds’ worth of diamonds for fifty million pounds to a consortium of buyers that included himself; Tracey Emin transplanted her unmade bed into the Tate Modern. Art-world satire, in other words, tends to feel ham-fisted because it’s all such low-hanging fruit: it doesn’t take much effort to make contemporary art sound dumb—it’s already dumb, and no inflection is needed.
The newest entry into the canon of bad art-world satires is director Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw, which premiered on Netflix last weekend. All the familiar grotesques are here: greedy gallerists, ruthlessly ambitious assistants, tax-dodging collectors, a critic so accustomed to churning out self-serving aesthetic pronouncements that he can’t help but bitchily opine about a dead colleague’s casket. There are also architectural black outfits, Tom Ford eyeglasses, and capital-h Haircuts marching through sterile white galleries and pristine midcentury houses; people airkiss, backstab, and mistake a pile of trash on the floor for a revolutionary new artwork.
But Gilroy adds a genre twist: in Velvet Buzzsaw, the art bites back, taking supernatural revenge on those who would debase it for profit.