A global art phenomenon, Beecroft is best known as the bard of bulimia (she has serious food issues) and for her infamous performance pieces in which she assembles dozens of naked women, accessorized in wigs or chains or Gucci, and displays them before an audience of elites, who sip champagne and stare.
Beecroft went to Sudan two years ago with a camera crew and photographer because, she says, she was interested in the plight of Darfur, though she concedes that she didn't know exactly where Darfur was, and never did get there.
Instead, she found herself in southern
Beecroft also photographed herself with the twins suckling her breasts. In an interview, she calls the work "a souvenir." The iconographic portrait, of a white-robed Madonna and two black babies, is arresting and disturbing, raising questions about celebrity, race, colonialism, international adoption. Exploitation or liberation? "There's never been anything like the double breast-feeding photo," says Jeffrey Deitch, her former dealer in
This is the story told by New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly in the world premiere of her documentary "The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins" at the Sundance Film Festival. The movie follows Beecroft from the orphanage and Dinka cattle camps in
In its review, the Hollywood Reporter concludes, "It probably would have taken a few more years of filming to have answered the most pertinent question: Can this kind of celebrity adoption work out satisfyingly for either parents or children?" The critic from Variety admires the film, writing that "Brettkelly offers an unvarnished picture of her subject, peeling away Beecroft's delusions about her seemingly noble adoption quest." Brettkelly's documentary is presented without narration, leaving the judgment to us. She is seeking a buyer and distributor for the film.
The day after the premiere, Brettkelly and Beecroft visit a photographer's studio at Sundance to have their portraits taken. Beecroft is tall, slender and dressed in black. Brettkelly is tall, slender and dressed in ski clothes. Beecroft is an Italian raised in Italy by an Italian mother (her father is an eccentric Englishman who appears in the film) and she speaks English with a melodic accent. Does she come across well in the film? "I thought, what a freak I am," Beecroft says softly, almost a whisper. "But it was really me."
Though Beecroft is an astute manipulator of media, she comes across in the film as annoying and clueless, like a dangerous child. In person? She seems harmless.
Brettkelly met the art star in
"When I went I thought I was going to the
Beecroft learns that the twins are not orphans, but have a father, who appears. The children's mother had died soon after their birth and he has quickly remarried. "I feel bad for the father," she says in the film. "I feel as if I'm stealing his children." But Beecroft persists. On camera she says, "I want them, but do I deserve them? I'm afraid of the judgment of the people, the bishop, the Dinkas, the world. Ah, here she is -- not that I'm important -- another white woman wanting something exotic."
Some thing. In one scene, Beecroft is shown rushing to photograph herself and the twins at the mission in
The film reveals that Beecroft's husband, Greg Durkin, thinks the adoption is a bad idea. The couple's relationship is fraying. He offers her a divorce. (The couple remain together, now in Los Angeles, where Durkin is vice president of research at Warner Bros. "I am living in a moment that is pretty hard," Beecroft says at Sundance. "But I want this family that I originally had and that was going to dissolve.")
She says she understood what her husband was saying -- that the twins were better off in
Eventually Beecroft abandons her attempt to adopt the twins. Asked if any good came of all this, Beecroft mentions that she gave the family of the twins two cows and a bicycle. She quickly says, "This is nothing." Why did she take the pictures? "I felt the urge to do them when I realized I couldn't adopt them. I needed to have this image, as a surrogate, but for me it's only the beginning," Beecroft says. "I'm working on a book on it, on a documentary, that is not a documentary like this documentary, but like an artist's notebook but I feel like I'm just at the beginning of it."
Beecroft says, "
What does the filmmaker think? "Often these children aren't really orphans," says Brettkelly. "What else can we do in these communities so these people can support and help their own children?" Instead of just whisking them off to the West. "It's a tricky subject. But as citizens of the privileged world, we need to think about it."
Beecroft smiles, her face a pale moon. She says, "I really enjoyed this criticism. It is what I work for. I want people to exercise their thoughts, and I provoke with this image. Because the image was intentional also, not only a souvenir. But it had an intent to provoke. So I was happy with this reaction. That is part of my work. To create a little bit of irritation for the audience."
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