5 documentaries that focus on contemporary art

With most galleries and museums still shuttered, now is a great time to spend some time delving into other dimensions of the art world. A host of documentaries offer glimpses into subjects as varied as the astronomical prices for artworks on the contemporary auction market, to the formative experiences that have made famous — and not so famous — artists pursue a life in the arts. Here are some recommendations from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“As Is by Nick Cave” (2016, Amazon Prime)

Perhaps best known for his psychedelic, furry, joyful “Soundsuits” wearable sculptures, Chicago artist Nick Cave’s performances are hypnotic frenzies of color, movement and community. This fascinating documentary charts Cave’s residency in 2015 in Shreveport, Louisana where his eight-month collaboration with a cross-section of local citizens to produce a multi-media performance piece demonstrates the power of art to get people out of their comfort zones.

“Cutie and the Boxer” (2013, Netflix)

It's a story as old as time: an older, once successful artist, in this case, a member of the Japanese avant-garde, Ushio Shinohara, relies on his much younger wife, Noriko, whose career has taken a back seat to her husband's. This remarkable character study reveals how the couple struggles to contend with a diminishing interest in their work and also with the consequences of past life choices. But there's more to this penetrating documentary than meets the eye as Academy Award-nominated and Sundance Film Festival-winning director Zachary Heinzerling shows the true challenges and sacrifices of an artist's life for both husband and wife. The balance has occasionally been unequal, but Noriko and Ushio are in all of this together, and Heinzerling's film is as close to conveying the complex experience of marriage, aging, financial struggle and both the pain and elation of creativity as a film can get. RELATED: 5 Atlanta museums, attractions offering virtual programs for kids

“David Lynch: The Art Life” (2017, Criterion)

Though he’s better known for this disturbing, psychological excavations of the darkness behind America’s suburban sunny skies in films like “Blue Velvet,” film director David Lynch began his creative life as a painter, setting up a studio when he was still a Virginia high school student and eventually attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While there, his experience of crime, racism and fear in Philadelphia turned out to profoundly affect his art-making. Contemporary scenes show Lynch at work in his Los Angeles home studio, as he recounts his early tribulations trying to convince his father his art career was worthwhile in this fascinating glimpse of how creativity is forged from an assortment of experiences — some horrific, some poetic, all deeply influential.

“Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski” (2018, Netflix)

A comic book and lowbrow art fan Glenn Bray stumbles upon a genuine mystery in sunny California: a strange, didactic, talented but tortured surrealist Polish sculptor, Stanislav Szukalski. He once led a cult of personality in his native Poland and was even approached by Adolph Hitler for a commissioned portrait. A genuinely bizarre character study, “Struggle” reveals the onion peel layers of Szukalski’s life along the way and more strange surprises at every turn.

“The Price of Everything” (2018, HBO)

As “New York” magazine art critic Jerry Saltz observes in this engrossing doc about the big-money world of contemporary art, the current art marketplace means that some of the most significant artworks of our age and previous ones are now hoarded by billionaires in private homes, far from the reach of ordinary people. There are some of the usual suspects in this doc about the ludicrous prices “name” artworks now command, chief among them Jeff Koons, who takes viewers on a tour of his enormous art factory where scurrying assistants sit painting his latest works. But the most telling moment among many insights from collectors, artists and critics may be the sense of profound inequity expressed by German painter Gerhard Richter at the price of his own works “the value of a house,” he shakes his head in dismay.