High art, low rent.
Dramatic and Mild (2018) dir. Nastia Korkia
Musings on the intersection of high and low art are as plentiful as “Starry Night” dorm posters. Sharing its title with the Wassily Kandinsky painting at its center, “Dramatic and Mild” instead intersects high art with no art and, even better, doesn’t ask its subject to pontificate on the subject. Director Nastia Korkia just captures the reactions and expressions of people encountering the work of a very spiritual painter in a very unassuming environment, the dilapidated breakroom of a defunct Moscow power station.
So many delights in a short amount of time, not the least of which is the painting’s lone guard, a friendly and well-informed hunk whose torso muscles have so far outstripped the rest of his physique it looks like he’s wearing a strongman costume (his frilly silk scarf might hide the seam). Unlikely that the most memorable part of the experience for anybody will be the painting, yet none would have come and stood in line for so long without it. Some dutifully engage with the artwork in question, shutting out the room. Some barely look at the Kandinsky, fascinated by the ordinary trappings around it, questioning the unorthodoxy or standing in awkward silence as sirens blare in the distance. The reactions are confused, sometimes bordering on hostile.
Korkia keeps the painting offscreen for nearly the whole film and just when it seems like we won’t get a glimpse ourselves, she cuts to it. There it is, not particularly well lit and surrounded by uncomplimentary, faded yellow paint. There’s a visible seam in the drywall and holes from some previous occupant, a corkboard maybe or a sign about proper handwashing.
There’s more than a little Duchamp in the exhibition method, but in addition to contemplating the artistic merit in the ordinary, the film considers the role of the museum. Is high art elevated when contrasted with the ordinary world? Is it best contemplated in a clean sanctuary from the outside, alongside other worthy art? Here the painting struggles to speak to a man in the suit who can’t comprehend its presence in this homely room. The bodybuilder provides perspective.