Why the movie ‘Inside’ hired an art curator to ‘make it legit’

Most films set in the art world do not have a curator. “Inside” by Vassilis Katsoupis did — and commissioned the launch of original contemporary works.

Set entirely in a New York penthouse, the film follows an art thief named Nemo (Willem Dafoe) who arrives to steal a collection of Egon Schiele paintings. When the burglary goes wrong, Nemo is trapped inside with the paintings, sculptures and installations collected by the unseen owner. Forced to survive in the inhospitable apartment, Nemo takes on the projects — and uses some of them to keep himself alive.

To create the collection, Katsoupis collaborated with the Italian art curator Leonardo Bigazzi. Some of the works appear in Ben Hopkins’ script for the film, while others were commissioned or borrowed from artists and galleries.

“There was a very clear vision of the purpose … some of the projects had to be fulfilled,” explains Bigazzi. “From the banal aspect of having a pointed metal sculpture that could be used to open the cellar to more complex elements of the narrative.”

“I had an idea for the collection in my head, but I needed an expert to legitimize it,” Katsoupis adds. “We’ve seen too many movies about art and most of the time the art is fake or fake. I really wanted everything in my film to be very, very right.”

Dozens of real-life works inhabit the penthouse, including pieces by Francesco Clemente, Maurizio Cattelan, John Armleder, Alvaro Urbano, Maxwell Alexandre, David Horvitz and Joanna Piotrowska. Here, Katsoupis and Bigatsi explain the intent behind six of the most memorable.

Francesco Clemente, “After and Before” (2021)

On the set of “Inside”.

(Wolfgang Ehnenbach / Focus Features)

Several artworks are featured exclusively on ‘Inside’. For one of them, Bigazzi approached Italian painter Francesco Clemente about an original commission influenced by an existing work, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World.

“Everyone knows it’s in the MOMA collection, so it would be impossible for our collector to have this artwork,” Katsoupis says. “For me this is art [about] this figure who is alone in this area and feels vulnerable because Christina is unable to move. We asked Francesco to take inspiration from it and make his own take.”

“Christina’s World” is not a landscape with a woman. it’s really like a psychological portrait of the impossibility of reaching something that’s out of reach,” adds Bigazzi. “The role that this play had in the script was this idea of ​​Willem looking at this painting and imagining the possibility of reaching this woman as he is anxious to reach the outside world. The Clemente style is a very recognizable watercolor style. It is a work that any art connoisseur or professional would immediately recognize.”

Petrit Halilaj, “Do you realize there’s a rainbow even though it’s night!?” (2020)

A man with a fur headdress

Willem Dafoe as Nemo in ‘Inside’.

(Focus Functions)

Titled “The Moth” by the filmmakers, “Do you realize there’s a rainbow even though it’s night!?” is the continuation of the Kosovar artist by Petrit Halilaj series for the Venice Biennale 2017. Bigazzi commissioned the piece specifically for ‘Inside’ to be installed on the wall of the penthouse, and while Dafoe toured the set with Katsupis, he decided to wear it as a costume.

“He said, ‘I’m going to be very cold. Why am I not wearing this?’ Bigazzi recalls. “And it became one of the most iconic images of the movie where he wears this moth, he becomes almost like a shaman.”

Maurizio Cattelan, “Untitled” (1999)

The print of a man is taped to a white canvas.

“Untitled” by Maurizio Cattelan.

(Wolfgang Ehnenbach / Focus Features)

The print of Maurizio Cattelan’s work, also known as ‘A Perfect Day’, presents an installation at Milan’s Galleria Massimo de Carlo, where the artist taped his gallerist to the wall. It was Cattelan’s first time using duct tape (most recently he taped a banana to a wall at Art Basel) and his intention was to reverse the power dynamics in the gallery world.

“For me, this project was perfect because Nemo is in a situation where he’s there to steal and ends up in a prison,” says Bigazzi. “That idea of ​​the structure of power and control is turned upside down.”

Later in the film, Nemo destroys the print, which was not scripted.

“Because they were shooting chronologically, Willem had a lot of time on set to negotiate his relationship with the projects,” Bigazzi recalls. “From the beginning we negotiated the fact that any damage to the work that occurred had to be for the survival of the character, whether physical or psychological. I called Maurizio to ask him and he was really excited.”

“This happened several times in the film,” Katsoupis adds. “You had these pieces of art that took on new life within the film, even if it wasn’t meant to happen in the script. It happened organically while we were shooting.”

Breda Beban, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (2003)

A video installation showing a man and a woman sitting side by side with their hands resting in front of them

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” on “Inside.”

(Focus Functions)

Serbian video artist Brenda Beban, who died in 2012, was Katsupi’s teacher and mentor during his MFA in screen arts in England, and the director wanted to pay tribute to her in his film. Two of Beban’s works are featured in “Inside”: a small inkjet print titled “Arte Vivo (No. 8)” and an eight-minute dual-screen video installation, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

“It’s simple in the script: It’s a form of entertainment for him,” Katsoupis says of the video work. “It’s like a small cinema. It is the only piece of art that has dialogue and has some movement. On TV, you can’t get any channels – everything is destroyed except for those screens.”

“The play is about a couple who share the same cinema space,” explains Bigazzi. “You realize they’re in the same room and sitting at the same table, but because they’re on two different screens it’s like they’ve never met [each other]. It’s a love that can’t happen. There is a similar lack of connection between Willem’s character and the woman [he watches] on CCTV. There is also a reason for the moving picture: Although the audience has the same exchange with Nemo, [they] it will never get to the level of me being there with him, inside the house, trapped.”

Joanna Piotrowska, “Untitled” series (2015-17)

A crew building a darkly lit sculpture with a cityscape seen through windows.

The crew at work during the production of ‘Inside’.

(Focus Functions)

Several years ago, Polish artist Joanna Piotrowska asked friends around the world to build shelters in their homes out of objects they had lying around. The result was a series of images of makeshift shelters. The projects mirrored what Katsoupis imagined Nemo eventually building in the penthouse.

“It’s about the idea of ​​building your own safe haven within the domestic environment under the illusion that this is something that protects you but you’re actually extremely vulnerable,” says Bigazzi. “Joanna’s photos are shown at the beginning when the house is still completely pristine and perfect, and then it’s almost like the shelter materializes in the space later in the film.”

Built on the set by production designer Thorsten Sabel, Nemo’s towering sculptural shelter was created with furniture and some of the actual art.

“It looks like an art installation,” notes Katsoupis.

David Horvitz, “All the Time That Comes After This Moment” (2019)

Silhouette of a man in a dark room

Willem Dafoe stars as Nemo in “Inside” directed by Vassilis Katsoupis.

(Wolfgang Ehnenbach / Focus Features)

A neon-lit sculpture, created by Los Angeles-based artist David Horvitz, hangs prominently in the collector’s apartment. For the first half of the film, the sculpture’s nine words are perfectly illuminated. Later, after the water floods the walls, only three remain: “after this moment.”

“The magic of cinema is when the water [came in] half sentence disabled. That wasn’t intentional — it happened on set,” Katsoupis says.

“This really becomes a perfect statement of productive possibilities when you put art in a different context,” adds Bigazzi. “In the film it’s really after that moment that everything is different because there’s water on the floor. The fact that it happened by chance shows that certain things, when activated in a certain way, take on a life of their own.”

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