Celebrity Skin

Eric Fischl: Portraits
Mary Boone Gallery
Through March 17, 2012

We are eating lunch at La Mer. Fish tacos, something called Bischon Frise Ceviche, and churros y sea urchins chocolat. There are seven empty bottles of a 1983 Dom Perignon on the table, along with several empty phials of what I thought was cocaine, but wasn't. Spike Lee, David Salle, Winona Ryder, and Trent Reznor are trying to discuss a new Julian Schnabel film, but I can't hear them as Oleander, a model/actress/waitress (my date), keeps interrupting. Alba Clemente (sans Francesco), Gwyneth Paltrow, and Dave Navarro are discussing the new Coldplay CD. 

There is silver glitter everywhere, and it keeps blowing into my glass. Outside, past the dry-ice machine, a limo is waiting to pick us up. My screenplay (Mutant Pussy) has mysteriously disappeared, but a PA has gone to fetch another copy. Juliet, my assistant, is, as usual, in the toilet, this time with Ron Jeremy, who will be playing the part of a "whimsical nanny" in the film.

[Jump cut]

The location changes to the gallery and: Several extras are standing around smoking, and the set dressers are pouring sand over the floor to create a "beachy feel." The paintings in the set are bright -- lots of celebrity portraits. A large one, "Simon and Anh" (2003) -- of Simon Cowell and his girlfriend (nude, sprawled out over him, with something resembling a...furry chinchilla in her lap) -- is taken down, then put back up again when the director changes his mind. Silver glitter from the restaurant has made its way into the gallery. The cinematographer is apoplectic and orders its removal immediately. I am wearing a black Prada pullover turtleneck, Levi's, and custom-made shoes (by someone named Dieter in Berlin) that resemble hooves. Oleander is now talking to Jay Leno's Adderall dealer and has also apparently found a new supply of champagne.

Burned into the opening sequence of the film: Dating from 1992 to 2011, the works in the exhibition range from sketched portraits cropped to the face, to commanding single figures, to complex arrangements of couples, families, or groups. As in the fraught suburban scenes for which he first rose to prominence, with each approach to portraiture Fischl demonstrates his mastery of conjuring form and light from paint to communicate the psychological bearing of his subjects.

In front of a large painting called "Joan and John" (2002) of a couple wearing what looks like Abercrombie & Fitch, or maybe Ralph Lauren, and the woman resembling Anna Wintour, the actual couple is talking to Lorne Michaels. "I open restaurants," Joan says as Lorne tries to escape. "The last one I opened was in West Hollywood. Maybe you have been to it. It is neo-classic Californian cuisine...." Lorne backs away slowly, saying, "Um, I've never been to West Hollywood...though I'm, uh, sure I would love it...." He goes and stands in front of his portrait, "Lorne" (2006), and begins to chat with Amy Poehler. Lars Ulrich and Sting are looking at "The Clemente Family (2005).

[Scene deleted]

Richard Price, who is writing the screenplay, enters, tripping over some cable left near the door. Smoke from the fog machine is filling up the gallery, and everybody is waving it away, trying to find their marks. Richard's girlfriend, Teddy (a female, female impersonator), sees "The Prices: Richard, Judy, Annie, and Gen" (2008) and storms out. Cindy Sherman shoots pictures of the mini-drama on her iPhone. Colored gels -- lavender, fuchsia, puce, and something called forsythia -- are tried out and discarded as various lead actors complain about how they make them look "wan." Finally, the art director chooses a large beach scene ("The Gang" [2006]) and arranges the principal actors in front of it for the first shot: Mara Rooney arguing with Kate Winslet about bull markets on Wall Street affecting their relationship. Later in the film, Kate will adopt a Somali baby, after Mara's character finds out she had aborted their co-partnered, turkey-baster fetus. A scenic artist is quickly painting a portrait of Winslet into the beach scene, as she was a last-minute replacement for Keira Knightley, who has entered rehab at an "undisclosed location" in Malibu. Steve Martin, who plays Rooney's father, a ruthless businessman with Alzheimer's, stands nearby, rehearsing his lines. Someone spills a drink on Bill Pullman's jacket, and a new one is quickly produced.

The director calls action, people begin milling around, the Steadicam moving in on the scene, the special effects guy starts the snow machine, and Skrillex begins playing in the background. - Bradley Rubenstein

The Mary Boone Gallery is at 541 West 24th Street and at 745 Fifth Avenue in New York, New York.


Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.

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