Vanessa Beecroft | Less-Than-Sympathetic Artist Becomes Unbelievable Character in Sudanese Adoption Documentary
Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on December 14, 2008
Everyone in Hollywood knows that a movie needs a good tag line in order to hook viewers. As for the true story of self-absorbed conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft and her long suffering lawyer/art dealer/entertainment consultant/Warner Bros. executive husband Greg Durkin, in the aftermath of her botched adoption attempt of Sudanese twins, I think the L.A. Times came up with a good one: “Beecroft traveled to Sudan, fell in love with a pair of motherless babies there and labored, in the presence of a documentarian’s camera, to adopt them — without consulting her husband”.
I’d certainly call that an attention grabber.
The entire event is chronicled in “The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins” — a documentary directed by New Zealand filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly, which screened at this year’s Sundance film festival. The near adoption tale begins with Beecroft, herself a mother of two, traveling to Sudan out of concern about the genocide. After developing mastitis on the plane, she offers her milk to some orphaned Sudanese newborns. It’s there that Beecroft meets the twins, Madit and Mangor Akot Makoi, and it’s love at first sight.
Before we proceed further with this drama — I mean, real life story — let’s peek into Beecroft’s background. Raised in Italy in a matriarchy consisting of her mother, aunt and grandmother (her English father left them when she was two), Beecroft’s ideas on men were derived almost exclusively from Bergman’s “Scenes From A Marriage”, about the tempestuous relationship between Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson). Little did she know life would imitate art.
Then came her art. A former bulimic, Beecroft is obsessed with the female form and much of her conceptual art involves installations of naked women who… look like her. Regardless, she was successful enough to show in Turin, Paris, Lisbon and Los Angeles. Beecroft then met her husband (the above-mentioned Greg Durkin) in Brookyn, proceeded to stage manage their church wedding in Portofino (after confessing she didn’t believe in marriage or the church), before finally settling in Long Island, where they had two sons, Virgil and Dean. Are you still with me?
Now back to the story at hand. On camera, Beecroft appears confused, fickle, sometimes rude, but consistently self-obsessed. “I want them,” she tells Brettkelly’s camera. “But do I deserve them? I’m afraid of the judgment of the people, the bishop, the Dinkas, the world… Another white woman wanting something exotic.” After their father is discovered living nearby and he blesses their adoption, Beecroft says, “I feel bad for their father, but I’m stealing his children.”
If you’re thinking Beecroft sounds like a less-than-sympathetic character, you’re not alone. “I overexposed myself,” she says in reaction to her own “performance” in the movie. “The filmmaker pictured me as aggressive and on the edge, always running up and down.” Beecroft believes director Brettkelly was projecting her own personality onto the film’s main character. “Probably that is her. She is unmarried, has no children and travels to dangerous parts all over the world.” In an e-mail to the Times, Brettkelly says her subject ” allowed me to capture the real Vanessa. I documented her truth. Though it may be uncomfortable for her to watch now, the camera was always pointed at her, not me.” Duh.
As for the twins, Beecroft went so far as to meet with government officials, but as Sudan has no legal adoption process, it all became too hard. Especially since Beecroft didn’t even share her single-minded desire to acquire the twins with husband until late in the process. “The way I found out was not ideal,” he says. “She was on the way to the airport. I got a call from her lawyer. I was pretty [ticked] off.” (It’s certainly different than going on a trip and bringing home a new rug for the living room.)
Undaunted, the couple considered donating $20,000 to the village for a new well, but that proved too difficult as well. Riiight.
After much to-ing and fro-ing and sleeping in the outhouse (Durkin), you’ll be relieved to hear (that is, if you care at all) that the couple are back together and living in the Hollywood Hills like true movie stars.
So, what lessons (if any) can we glean from the re-telling of this story? Hmmm. I think Liv Ullman’s character Marianne in Bergman’s 1974 classic said it best when she said: “We’re pitiful, self-indulgent cowards that can’t connect with reality and are ashamed of ourselves.”
(via the L.A. Times)