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A film with its own art curator? ‘Inside’, a heist movie’s effort to ‘make it legit’

Most films set in the art world do not have a curator. Vasilis Katsoupis’ “Inside” did just that, as well as commissioning original contemporary works.

Set entirely in a New York City penthouse, the film follows an art thief named Nemo (Willem Dafoe), who arrives to steal a collection of Egon Schiele paintings. When the robbery goes wrong, Nemo is trapped inside with the paintings, sculptures and installations assembled by the unseen owner. While he is forced to survive in the unwelcoming apartment, Nemo commits to the works and uses some of them to stay alive.

To create the collection, Katsoupis partnered with Italian art curator Leonardo Bigazzi. Some of the works appear in Ben Hopkins’ script for the film, while others were commissioned or loaned by artists and galleries.

“There was a very clear vision about the purpose… some of the works had to fulfill”, explains Bigazzi. “From the banal aspect of having a sculpture in a pointed metal that could be used to open the basement to more complex elements of the narrative.”

“I had an idea for the collection in mind, but I needed an expert to make it legit,” adds Katsoupis. “We have seen too many movies that have to do with art and most of the time the art is fake or look-alike. I really wanted everything in my film to be very, very correct.”

Dozens of real-life works populate the penthouse, including pieces by Francesco Clemente, Maurizio Cattelan, John Armleder, Alvaro Urbano, Maxwell Alexandre, David Horvitz, and Joanna Piotrowska. Here, Katsoupis and Bigazzi explain the intent behind six of the most memorable.

Francesco Clemente, ‘After and Before’ (2021)

On the set of “Inside.”

(Wolfgang Ennenbach / Focus Features)

Various works of art appear exclusively on “Inside.” For one, Bigazzi approached Italian painter Francesco Clemente about an original commission influenced by an existing work, Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”.

“Everyone knows that it is in the MOMA collection, so it would be impossible for our collector to have this work of art,” says Katsoupis. “For me, this art is (about) this figure who is alone in this field and feels vulnerable because Christina is unable to move. We asked Francesco to be inspired by this and make his own version of it.

“’Christina’s World’ is not a landscape with a woman; it is really like a psychological portrayal of the impossibility of reaching something that is unattainable”, adds Bigazzi. “The part that this play played in the script was this idea of ​​Willem looking at this painting and imagining the possibility of reaching this woman as much as he is eager to reach the outside world. The Clemente style is a very recognizable watercolor style. It is a work that any art expert or professional would instantly recognize.”

Petrit Halilaj, ‘Do you realize that there is a rainbow even at night?’ (2020)

A man with a furry headdress

Willem Dafoe as Nemo in “Inside.”

(Focus Features)

Nicknamed “The Moth” by the filmmakers, “Do you realize there’s a rainbow even if it’s night?” is a continuation of the kosovar artist by petrit halilaj series for the 2017 Venice Biennale. Bigazzi commissioned the piece to be installed specifically for “Inside” on the attic wall, and as Dafoe toured the art on set with Katsoupis, he decided to don it as a costume.

“He said: ‘I’m going to be very cold. Why don’t I use this?’” Bigazzi recalls. “And it became one of the most iconic images in the movie where he wears this moth, becoming almost a shaman.”

Maurizio Cattelan, ‘Untitled’ (1999)

The print of a man is taped to a white canvas.

“Untitled” by Maurizio Cattelan.

(Wolfgang Ennenbach / Focus Features)

The print of Maurizio Cattelan’s work, also known as “A Perfect Day,” shows an installation at Milan’s Galleria Massimo de Carlo, where the artist taped his gallerist to the wall. It was the first time Cattelan had used duct tape (most recently, he taped a banana to a wall at Art Basel), and his intent was to reverse the power dynamics in the gallery world.

“For me, this job was perfect because Nemo finds himself in a situation where he’s there to steal and ends up in prison,” Bigazzi says. “This idea of ​​a power and control structure is inverted.”

Later in the movie, Nemo destroys the print, which was not written.

“Because they were shooting chronologically, Willem had a lot of time on set to negotiate his relationship with the works,” recalls Bigazzi. “From the beginning we negotiated the fact that any damage to the work that occurred had to be for the survival of the character, be it physical or psychological. I called Maurizio to ask him and he was very excited ”.

“That happened many times in the movie,” adds Katsoupis. “You had these pieces of art that took on a new life within the movie, even if it wasn’t meant to happen in the script. It was happening organically while we were filming.”

Breda Beban, ‘I can’t make you love me’ (2003)

A video installation showing a man and a woman sitting next to each other with their hands resting in front of them.

“I can’t make you love me” on “Inside”.

(Focus Features)

Serbian video artist Breda Beban, who died in 2012, was Katsoupis’ teacher and mentor during his MFA in performing arts in England, and the filmmaker wanted to pay tribute to her in his film. Two of Beban’s works appear on “Inside”: a small inkjet print titled “Living Art (No. 8)” and an eight-minute dual-screen video installation, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

“It’s simple in the script: it’s a form of entertainment for him,” Katsoupis says of the video work. “It’s like a small cinema. It is the only piece of art that has dialogue and has some movement. On TV, you can’t get any channels, everything is destroyed except these screens.”

“The work speaks of a couple who share the same cinematographic space”, explains Bigazzi. “You understand that they are in the same room and sitting at the same table, but because they are on two different screens, it is as if they never met. It is a love that cannot happen. There is a similar impossibility of connection between Willem’s character and the woman (he watches) on CCTV. It also becomes a discourse on metacinema: even if the public is in the same exchange with Nemo, it will never reach the level of being there with him, inside the house, trapped”.

Joanna Piotrowska, series ‘Untitled’ (2015-17)

A team building a darkly lit sculpture with a cityscape seen through the windows.

The crew at work during the production of “Inside”.

(Focus Features)

Several years ago, Polish artist Joanna Piotrowska asked friends around the world to build shelters in their homes out of objects they had lying around. The result was a series of images of makeshift shelters. The works mirrored what Katsoupis envisioned Nemo would eventually build in the attic.

“It’s about the idea of ​​building your own precarious shelter within the home environment under the illusion that it’s something that protects you but is actually extremely vulnerable,” says Bigazzi. “Joanna’s photographs appear early on when the house is still totally pristine and perfect, and then it’s almost like the shelter materializes out of space later in the movie.”

Nemo’s imposing sculptural haven, built on set by production designer Thorsten Sabel, was created using furniture and some of the actual art.

“It looks like an art installation,” Katsoupis notes.

David Horvitz, ‘All the time that will come after this moment’ (2019)

Silhouette of a man in a dark room

Willem Dafoe plays Nemo in “Inside” by director Vasilis Katsoupis.

(Wolfgang Ennenbach / Focus Features)

A neon light sculpture, created by Los Angeles-based artist David Horvitz, hangs prominently in the collector’s apartment. For the first half of the movie, all nine words on the sculpture are perfectly lit. Later, after the water floods the walls, only three remain: “after this moment.”

“The magic of the cinema is when the water (entered) half the sentence went out. That was not intentional, it happened on set,” says Katsoupis.

“This really becomes a perfect statement of the generative possibilities of when you put art in a different context,” Bigazzi adds. “In the movie it’s really after that moment that everything is different because there’s water on the ground. The fact that it happened by chance shows that certain things, when activated in a certain way, take on a life of their own.”