Those looking for a tragicomic art-world counterpoint to It's a Wonderful Life-style holiday cheer might consider "The Sixth Year" (2013), a five-episode dramatic series now available for online binge-watching. Written by Los Angeles-based artists Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda, and produced in conjunction with their recent exhibition at New York's downtown art space Ludlow 38, "The Sixth Year" is a razor-sharp look at the social machinations and careerist maneuverings that unfold in New York galleries, studios and art bars.
Though it might resemble a TV miniseries, "The Sixth Year" is more like an omnibus movie, with each brief episode directed by a different artist or filmmaker, including sections by Rick Alverson, Dustin Guy Defa and Alex Ross Perry, who have each previously directed narrative feature films. Whether the story follows an emerging artist as he applies for a job in an established artist's studio or we watch as young strivers internalize the cynical lingo of art advisors, it's never clear whether viewers should empathize with these characters, struggling to "make it" in an unforgiving system, or whether we should all just throw in the towel and resign from the art world immediately.
Some cause for hope is found in the episodes directed by artists. Loretta Fahrenholz cast children in the roles of self-centered gallerists and nonprofit directors, transforming Chung and Maeda's bitchy dialogue into an absurdist comedy. Ken Okiishi and Nick Mauss departed from narrative drama altogether. In their episode a disembodied voice reads the entire screenplay, stage directions and all, while bizarre, pornographic 3-D animations are superimposed over a video of someone browsing through the Ludlow 38 website.
The Dec. 11 premiere of "The Sixth Year" filled New York's Anthology Film Archives to capacity, suggesting that nothing draws crowds quite like a little navel-gazing. But what separates "The Sixth Year" from so much whining about art-world hypocrisy and obsession with the market is not just the fresh dialogue, much of which could have been recorded at a Lower East Side gallery opening. In addition, there is a spirit of generosity in the work—we are in this together, for better or worse—that might just warm a cold heart during the holidays.