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  amy's notebook

by Amy Fusselman  

Julian Schnabel

The offending tripod

The Patients and the Doctors

Viewer with portrait
of Albert Oehlen

Norm Plitt
1. The opening for "Julian Schnabel: A Selection of Paintings from 1978, 1988 and 1998" and the sculpture Gradiva," at Guild Hall, East Hampton, on Aug. 8, 1998.

"It's a very beautiful building," said Julian Schnabel in reference to Guild Hall, as his eye wandered over the many slip-dressed women who had come to the opening of his show.

Suddenly he stopped. "They have to get that tripod out of there!" he said, running to tell two women from Bravo cable TV that their tripod, which was set up in the center of the gallery, was wrecking the scene.

The tripod was hustled to the side, and the director of the movie Basquiat returned to continue our chat.

"Is this a mini-retrospective?" I asked.

"Mini-retrospective sounds like mini-mart," he said, clearly not happy with any metaphor smacking of strip mall. "This is seven paintings, some drawings, a sculpture. It's very representative of what I do. It's -- what do you call it -- a smorgasbord."

Smorgasbord was apt, considering that we stood in close proximity to dishware -- albeit in the form of the artist's first-ever plate painting, The Patients and the Doctors (1978). Looking at it, Schnabel said, "is like seeing an X-ray of myself." With Basquiat now on video, Schnabel is currently working on another filmic close-up of an artist -- the Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas, who killed himself in 1990.

Perhaps seeking a cameo, a doe-eyed young woman approached the artist to ask what the white streaks meant on the three portraits in the exhibition. Pointing to his 1997 Portrait of Albert Oehlen, Schnabel patiently explained that the mark put the painting "back in time," making "whatever is painted in the painting subordinate to [it]."

She didn't seem to buy his explanation, but did ask if the painting was for sale. Schnabel laughed. If it were, he said, "It would be $200,000 -- do you want to buy it?" She smiled, shook her head shyly, and scampered off.

Her question reminded me to ask Schnabel if he had ever used a camera like the one I had hanging around my neck -- a Polaroid -- because, sometimes, I said, when you take Polaroids, they come out with these pale, flame-shaped smears on them that look a lot like the marks on his portraits.

"I've never used one of those," he said quickly, as I did my best scampering-off imitation.

This was my first time to Guild Hall. Artist Tony Rosenthal's six-foot, black cube pirouetting outside the door seemed like a friendly sign that East Hampton, despite its upscale reputation, wouldn't be so different from my Astor Place neighborhood after all, landmarked by another of Rosenthal's public works. With the skateboard kids that do their thing there in mind, I approached an older woman with a punky haircut and asked her who she was. She said she was Eunice Golden, an artist. Currently, she is working on acrylic paintings of swimmers, but in the 1970s she made films and photographs focusing on the "male nude as landscape," and showed in the "Nothing but Nude" show at the Whitney in 1976.

"That sounds great!" I said. "Let's bring back more nudity! How do we do it?"

She laughed and said "I don't know."

"Are your swimmers nude?"



I asked her what she thought of Julian.

"I love the plate paintings," she said. "I'm ambivalent about the portraits. I don't know why he did that with the negative space. It seems like an afterthought . . . it's justifiable that the crockery established his reputation, though."


"It was a very gutsy thing to do," she said, sounding like she had a right to judge in these matters.

Eunice and I parted. I wandered around the galleries looking for famous East Hamptonites, but besides Bernadette Peters, who had been immediately cornered by the Bravo gals, I didn't see anyone I recognized. So I asked an elderly woman wearing a pale pink shirt and a big smile on her face -- East Hampton resident Teddy Greenbaum -- what she thought of the work.

"I think it borders on the psychotic," she said, still smiling. Greenbaum's husband Bob, a former chairman of Guild Hall, would not go on the record with his opinion.

No comment on the esthetic value of the artwork was also the response from the fabulously-dressed Norm Plitt, who wore shiny white shoes and a green and white plaid sport coat with the easy grace of George Jones on stage at the Grand Old Opry. But Plitt, the head of security at Guild Hall -- who did report that nothing has been stolen or vandalized at Guild Hall since he came to the job in 1990 -- helped put the work in a different context. Nodding in the direction of the smashed plate paintings, he said simply, "This isn't a very high-risk show."


2. Penny Loafers

"I got that for $100!" Philip Johnson announced gleefully, gesturing to Oskar Shlemmer's 1932 painting, Bauhaus Stairway, one of his earliest gifts to the Museum of Modern Art. The 92-year-old architect was padding around MoMA's third-floor galleries as part of a July 10 press walk-through announcing his latest benefaction -- nine paintings in all, by de Kooning, Johns, Guston, Rosenquist and Warhol.

Freshly scrubbed for the 9:30 a.m. event, I was nervous in the face of the legendary Glass House resident and watched in awe as faxmeister Josh Baer, in shorts and flip-flops, strolled right up to Johnson to chat about why MoMA had taken down its painting by his mom, Minimalist Jo Baer. (The painting, a gift from Johnson some 30 years ago, had been put in storage.)

Later on, when I saw Baer, he insisted he had been wearing penny loafers.

3. Johnsian

In the top row of the metal bleachers
eye level with the DJs crow's nest,
I sit at Dia Center for the Arts
for the July 15 fall fashion show
staged by a Minneapolis-based discount store
with no outlets in Manhattan: Target.

How do things proceed at these events?
Fashionista Fern Mallis is standing by the exit,
talking on the phone. The music
has been playing very loudly since I got here
fifteen minutes ago. Pretty women sit
on either side of me but don't make friends.
I copy them, chew gum
and bounce my leg.

At last, here come the skinny kids.
Oh, but they look crabby.
They come in grey sweatpants.
They go in grey sweatpants.
They appear and disappear
behind a twelve-foot,
galvanized aluminum target,
the company logo.

In the 1970s we lived in Minneapolis
because my dad worked in purchasing
for the company that owns Target.
His office was in the Philip Johnson-
designed I.D.S. Center. I remember worrying
about him working on a 36th floor.
(Towering Inferno was big then).

Feather duster
I watch the models, now in bathrobes,
and think I met Philip Johnson at MoMA last week
and had no burning questions
I feel bad about that, like where's the fire
in my belly.

Now the show's over. That was quick.
I get my goodie bag, give it a look-see,
(chocolate?) and with the grace of a camera-caught
thief on "Cops," trundle down the street
holding my new, free, feather duster
high, like an Olympic torch.

AMY FUSSELMAN is a New York writer and poet.