Carl and Iris Apfel in 'Iris,' a Magnolia Pictures release (image courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

Carl and Iris Apfel in Iris, a Magnolia Pictures release (image courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

Thanksgiving is upon us. Though times are tumultuous, if you have Netflix Instant, you have at least one thing to be thankful for: a seemingly bottomless cornucopia of streamable content. Here are ten art-related movies and shows you can watch on Netflix Instant in a daze of tryptophan and gratitude.


The last film by the late Albert Maysles — famed director of cinema verité classics like Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens — Iris (2015) is a documentary portrait of nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel. Known for her layers of chunky jewelry, vibrant prints, and signature round glasses, Apfel approached fashion as an art form, and the art world treated her work as such: a 2005 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Apfel Collection, first brought her widespread public acclaim. “Dressing should be fun,” Apfel says in the film. “Life is short and life is grey, so you can easily dress yourself up, make yourself happy, and then you make other people happy.” Read Hyperallergic’s review here and watch here.

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Big Eyes

This Tim Burton-directed biopic tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the American painter famous in the 1960s for her Pop art portraits of waifish children with big Bambi eyes. Her husband, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), took credit for all of her work. It was only when the couple got divorced that Margaret fought for her recognition. Read Hyperallergic’s review here and watch it here.

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Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery

This provocative documentary profiles infamous German art forger Wolfgang Beltracchi, who made millions by producing knock-offs of famous artists, including André Derain, Kees van Dongen, and Max Ernst. Made by the son of Beltracchi’s legal counsel, the 2014 film delves into a sensational, convoluted scandal. In one scene, Beltracchi brags to a visiting curator about his facility with faking Old Masters — “Vermeer?” “Him, too.” “Rembrandt?” “Any of his.” “Leonardo?” “Of course, he’s not difficult.” Hyperallergic’s reviewer called the film “very engrossing but disorganized.” Judge for yourself on Netflix here.

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The 100 Years Show

Wheelchair-bound at age 101, Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera is “very possibly the oldest contemporary artist working today,” as Christie’s put it. Herrera has been painting since her youth in Cuba, but didn’t achieve any commercial success until the early 2000s — after she’d been working as an artist for seven decades. Recently, major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art and Tate Modern have acquired her paintings. The 100 Years Show (2015) is a documentary profile of Herrera’s extraordinary life and work. Watch it here.

Je Suis Charlie

In January 2015, a terrorist attack at the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo left 12 people deadJe suis Charlie, a documentary directed by the father-son team of Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte, examines the events that led up to the attack. The film includes archival footage of cartoonist Jean Cabut, better known as “Cabu,” whose drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad earned him the wrath of Jihadist terrorists. Watch it here.

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Finding Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier, a reclusive French-American woman, worked for most of her life as a nanny and housekeeper in Chicago. She carried a camera everywhere she went. It wasn’t until after her death, in 2009, that her vast body of brilliant photographs came to light. John Maloof, who discovered her photographs in a box at an auction house, co-wrote and directed Finding Vivian Maier (2013), a documentary that uncovers her life through interviews with people who knew her. Read Hyperallergic’s review here, and watch it here.

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Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland

Throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland, artists on both sides of the conflict painted political murals throughout the region. Narrated by Vince Vaughn, Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland (2012) is a documentary exploring the role of these public artworks in the region’s violent history. It features interviews with local muralists, political figures, mural historians, and art community members. Watch it here.

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Revenge of the Mekons

The members of cult British punk band the Mekons first met as art students and Sex Pistols fans at Leeds University in 1977. Despite critic Lester Bangs calling them “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock n’ roll,” the Mekons are said to never sell much more than 8,000 copies per album and still play in clubs, not concert halls. Revenge of the Mekons (2014), directed by Joe Angio, is a rock documentary about anti-rockstars. Since the band members never earned enough money to quit their day jobs, the film also chronicles their lives outside of music: violinist Susie Honeyman runs a London art gallery, and a few members are accomplished visual artists. Watch it here.

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Raiders of the Lost Art

British documentary TV series Raiders of the Lost Art (2016) tells the true-crime stories of artworks that have been stolen and, in some cases, recovered. From the disappearance of eight bejeweled Fabergé eggs made for the Romfamily during the Russian Revolution to the discovery of a hoard of artwork missing since World War II, each case is illustrated with archival footage and dramatic recreations. Watch it here.

Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

This 2016 documentary follows Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, known for his pyrotechnic spectacles, as he creates his most ambitious project yet. Watch it here.

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Bob Ross: Beauty Is Everywhere

Beauty was everywhere in 1991, when Bob Ross hosted this paint-along show, and it’s still everywhere, even in 2016, which, to many, has felt like “the fucking worst year.” Nothing like watching Bob Ross paint “almighty trees” and feed his pet squirrels (“I’m just putting in a few little clouds down here while you’re watching the squirrels,” he says in episode one) to ease your mind. Stream 25 episodes of Beauty Is Everywhere here.

And if that’s not enough viewing material for you, consult our previous list of art documentaries on Netflix (some of which may no longer be streamable due to the site’s shifting licensing agreements).

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

One reply on “11 Art-Related Movies and Shows to Watch on Netflix Instant”

  1. I would add The Artist and the Model-2012. A Spanish film about a sucessful artist in the circle of Matisse living in priveledged seclusion in the Pyrenees in the South of France durring WWll . His privallege and sucess enable him to avoid the war remaing apolitical and willfully oblivious. He takes in a Spanish refugee as a model for selfish reasons and deludes himself to the danger of harboring a fugitive in Nazi occupied France.

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