Kenny Scharf

Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide Review

Fans of that fabled punk/pop art era of 1980’s New York City will love Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide. You don’t even really need to be a fan to enjoy this enticing tale of renegades and outlaws. It is the story of a bunch of starving young artists who took over a city that was literally lying in ruins to create one of history’s most exciting art movements.

Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide also becomes the tale of a survivor. As the film delves deeper into the artist’s personal life, we watch him endure the pitfalls of obscurity, only to emerge refreshed both as a person and as a creator.

In a bankrupt New York City, Scharf, fresh from his native California, arrived to discover Basquiat and Haring, happenings and street art, and CBGB’s and nightclubs. He dove right in and became a vital force. His art practice was interdisciplinary, vivid, and fantastical. Using found objects—with a special fondness for plastic—he fashioned pieces that worked both within and beyond this world.

Fun references to cartoon TV shows of the time (namely The Jetsons and The Flintstones) merged with his own balloon-ish and fanciful creations—all smiling faces and mischievous grins. Scharf created his trademark Cosmic Caverns—immersive black light and Day-Glo paint installations—that also functioned as ongoing disco parties. His world was vibrant and playful. The impassioned collective spirit emanating from his work stimulated the free spirits around and is palpable to us the viewers.

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Pushing the boundaries of all disciplines, Scharf often blended them and was instrumental in also breaking down the barriers that kept art in the hallowed halls of the institutions. He, along with his revered friends, wanted their art to literally spill into the street and it did. This documentary is a fun chronicle of those artists reclaiming artistic power and putting it in the hands of anyone with the gumption to take it.

Made over 11 years, this treasure trove of interviews and archival footage recreates the excitement of that legendary time and place. In (re)introducing us to those lovable disaffected kids, we gain a welcome new perspective in its focus on Scharf.

In Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide, the artist grows from a self-possessed ringleader into a loving father for his own children. In the process, we watch an artist face the greatest fear of their career—irrelevance—and then combat it. The film’s greatest asset is its subject. Scharf is completely open and candid—a perfect vessel for his ultimate (lifelong) democratic message that art belongs to us all.

The film is now available to stream through Hot Docs Cinema.

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