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Celebrity Art
by Baird Jones
 
     
  Marlborough Gallery knows a sweet thing when it sees it. This week the gallery's Chelsea branch opened Hiro Yamagata's "American Lips," a show of 18 lush paintings of women's kissers. Yamagata depicts the sexy bouches of such Hollywood stars as Goldie Hawn, Elizabeth Taylor, Meg Ryan, Geena Davis, Jane Seymour (who is also quite a painter in her own right) and Sharon Stone. How much for the best part of the movies? The prices are in the five figures, and word is collectors are snapping them up. A surprisingly slight and pale Arnold Schwartzenegger made the packed reception, where he plugged his new flick End of Days. Yamagata was born in Japan, and has lived in L.A. since 1978, where he gained renown for painting flowers on Bentleys. Incredibly, he used to show at Martin Lawrence Galleries before moving on up. Highbrow gallery-goers were surprised to see that Marlborough had snagged top Manhattan art-news-hound Judd Tully to give the requisite "lip service" in the catalogue that accompanies the show.

Prince Charles is launching a serious art career. His Royal Highness has created several suites of limited-edition lithographs based on his plein air watercolors of nature scenes and antique architecture. Sales of the signed and dated lithos, which are embossed with a royal seal, presented in a linen-bound portfolio and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, benefit the Prince of Wales Charities' Trust. Prices on the lithos range from $10,000 to $50,000.

A $15-million collection of Marilyn Monroe's dresses and personal effects is to be auctioned by Christie's New York this summer. Among the more than 100 lots is the skin-tight dress the Hollywood icon wore when she sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to John Kennedy in 1962, according to the Independent newspaper in London. The auction is organized by Meredith Etherington-Smith, who also masterminded the sale of dresses of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Artist Ed Ruscha received an honorary degree from CalArts on May 21. Ruscha recently completed a 23-foot mural entitled Picture Without Words for the Getty Center's Harold Williams Auditorium.

President William Jefferson Clinton disclosed on his 1998 gift report that he had received a Carly Simon painting of a seascape which he valued at only $300. Seems a low appraisal compared to sea paintings by another Democratic party supporter, Ted Kennedy, whose works have sold for as much as $3,000.

Art dealer Robert Miller has re-emerged as a painter with a quite impressive exhibition of abstract paintings inspired by Tibetan bowls at the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in Chelsea. These bowls are designed to produce music when rubbed, and Miller's colorful ovals, priced at a few thousand dollars apiece, effectively conveyed the wraparound sound-chamber effect. At the near-empty Klagsbrun reception, several old-timers reminisced of the days in the 1960s when Bob Miller was known only as an abstract painter, before he went to work as Andre Emmerich's assistant in 1967. Miller had shown several times at the Guggenheim Museum and exhibited regularly at the prestigious Martha Jackson Gallery on 57th Street both as a painter and as a sculptor. Miller, who originally hails from Northfield in South Jersey, studied art at Rutgers, where he met his wife Betsy Miller. After working at Emmerich, Miller opened his own gallery at 724 Fifth Avenue in 1976, moving to 57th Street in 1984. Among those at Miller's reception at Klagsbrun were TV movie critic Joel Siegel and wife Ena Swansea, who had her first show of paintings at the Miller gallery last fall.

The Institute of Contemporary Art in London is seeking volunteers to re-enact the mass suicide at Jonestown 21 years ago, according to the London Times. Artist and crop-circle maker Rod Dickinson wants to recreate the final hours of Rev. Jim Jones' camp in Guyana where over 900 people died from drinking fruit punch laced with potassium cyanide. The ICA's Live Arts Department is distributing flyers to prospective volunteers that read, "Would you like to take part?"

The current issue of Smithsonian Magazine relates several medical explanations for the famous smile of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Her mouth is closed, one theory goes, because her teeth were blackened by a 16th-century mercury treatment for syphilis. A Danish doctor proposes that Mona Lisa had congenital palsy affecting the left side of her face, noting that the sitter also has the typically large hands of such patients. An orthopedic surgeon in Lyons decided that Mona Lisa's semi-smile resulted from her being half-paralyzed either from birth or as the result of a stroke; one indication of this was that her right hand looks relaxed but her left hand is strangely tense.'' Using a computer, Lillian Schwartz of Lucent Technologies reversed a self-portrait of Leonardo and juxtaposed it with the Mona Lisa's face. Noses, mouths, foreheads, cheekbones, eyes and brows all lined up, leading Schwartz to conclude that the artist began with a portrait of a woman, who became unavailable in the midst of his painting, whereupon he used himself -- without his beard -- as a model.

The New York Post reports that artist Lucian Freud, whose grandfather Sigmund was one of the prouder products of Vienna, won't allow his paintings to be shown in Austria.

The black-and-white portraits of Edward Windsor and Sophie Rhys-Jones, to be used on a new stamp commemorating their wedding are "the cheesiest of royal pictures yet," according to the Mirror newspaper in London. And in preparation for the wedding, paintings of the bride's hometown -- Brenchley in Kent -- by a dozen California artists will be exhibited at the Art Center Gallery Store in San Rafael, Ca., during June. The show also includes works by Christopher Rhys-Jones, the bride's father, who still lives in Brenchley.


BAIRD JONES can be reached at bairdjones@msn.com.