Project Space 13 review – lockdown comedy takes aim at pretentious artworld

“We have lost Gucci!! The Gucci store is down.” That’s an art gallery owner’s lament as anti-lockdown protesters rampage through New York’s chichi SoHo in this microbudget indie directed by Michael M Bilandic. It’s a cheeky satire poking fun at art world pretention, and there’s a reasonable strike rate of digs here. Detto ciò, accusing modern art of being all hype and no substance is not exactly a case of picking a tough target.

Keith Poulson plays an obnoxious performance artist, Nate, an ageing enfant terrible whose career has nosedived. Now he’s attempting to claw his way back with a cheap stunt. Nate intends to remain locked inside a metal cage for 120 days in a Manhattan gallery living on a diet of creepy crawlies. His only company is a cute-looking robot, which has been programmed to taser him with electric shocks several times a day.

Alas for Nate’s comeback plans, lockdown and riots have forced the gallery to close. Nate refuses to quit, so his flamboyant gallerist (Jason Grisell, laying it on a bit heavy) sends in two private security guards to protect him from the mob. There’s Covid-denying Gulf war veteran Ace (Theodore Bouloukos) and earnest student Evan (Hunter Zimny), who reminded me of dim cousin Greg in Succession. For the rest of the film we’re locked in the gallery, shutters down, listening to the three bickering about everything from gun control to modern art. Nate is infuriatingly patronising; and the more he talks the more he exposes himself as a fame-hungry mediocre talent.

The best moment comes when the power goes out. Surely, says student Evan, Nate can fix the electric circuitry – after all, he’s built a robot. Er, no. Nate didn’t actually make the robot – a team of 50 guys in Japan did the engineering. “But intellectually, I built it,” Nates sniffs arrogantly. It’s a very funny scene.

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