Chiara Clemente's documentary Our City Dreams finds the myriad dimensions in a simple concept. Clemente spent a year hanging out with and interviewing five female artists in New York City, recording their thoughts about their work and their homes. As the documentary steps back, one artist at a time, from the youngest ("Swoon," born 1977) to the oldest (Nancy Spero, born 1926), Clemente subtly changes styles and moods, shifting from edgy urban angst to hippie spirituality. The movie documents these ladies' art, their lives, their varied scenes, and their evolving impressions of the city. While most documentaries about the New York art world look for defining figures and unifying threads, Our City Dreams acknowledges that in a metropolis, the artists can be as varied as the neighborhoods they inhabit.
Each of Clemente's subjects is talented enough to support a feature-length documentary of her own—particularly Kiki Smith, an acclaimed sculptor who spends much of her segment of Our City Dreams contemplating her past via a 25-year retrospective at the Whitney; and Marina Abramovic, a Yugoslavian performance artist who, in her 60s, is still testing the endurance of her body for the sake of art. And because these women are so engaging, it's hard not to wish Clemente had offered a fuller representation of each, with more about their family lives, their favorite fellow artists, or how they afforded life in NYC before establishing themselves. Still, the 15 minutes or so we spend with each artist is enough to see how they've turned their habitats, their gender, and their personal crusades into imaginative, eye-catching work. And that curatorial aspect of Our City Dreams shouldn't be discounted. Sometimes high-quality footage of good art is enough to sustain interest—especially for viewers not fortunate enough to live in a city so bursting with creativity.