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Some Real Art Props Up 'Eagles'

February 12, 1986|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

We've had art as backdrops for fashion magazine ads, art as a trendy enticement to buy liquor. Now we have art to promote a movie. If we believe the hype, this must be progress.

Moving right along, Hollywood has now put real art, high-priced art, big-name art, blue-chip art on the set of "Legal Eagles," a comedy thriller about art fraud and murder, to be released in June by Universal Pictures.

Makes a change, anyway, from the standard film director's practice of stripping real galleries of the art they actually show and replacing it with the fifth-rate stuff you find in parking lots on sunny Sundays.

The Calders, Dubuffets and Picassos lining the walls of the fictitious Taft Gallery in "Legal Eagles" are also classier than, say, the Paul Jenkins reruns featured in "An Unmarried Woman" and the kinky, trussed-up women, painted a la Robert Blue, in "Heartbreakers."

According to Hollywood wisdom, the world is ready for art by validated masters as a decorative promotional tool, but not for artworks as movie stars. If it were, the Taft Gallery's show of "20th-Century Masters"--presented Monday night at Universal Studios as a private "gallery opening"--wouldn't have been upstaged by Daryl Hannah, who stars in the film with Robert Redford and Debra Winger. Clad all in black, a waif-like Hannah dutifully posed in front of this painting and that sculpture with a pack of photographers following her. She walked, she talked, while the art just sat there.

The opening was a film-world event, visited by a few folks from the art sphere who looked horrified or embarrassed and asked each other, "What are you doing here?"

Awash in superficiality, they looked for something they could get their teeth into: the veracity of the set, for instance. The resemblance of the Taft to Pace Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan was quickly noted. No wonder; Arnold Glimcher, director of Pace and associate producer/art consultant for the movie, assembled the exhibition of artworks from several galleries, museums and private collections.

When a woman asked Glimcher how he convinced such people as television producer David Wolper to loan art to "Legal Eagles," he said, "David is an old friend of mine. He was a real sport about it."

Other sports are the County Museum of Art, such prestigious New York showcases as Andre Emmerich, Xavier Fourcade, Leo Castelli, Knoedler, Nancy Hoffman and, of course, Pace Gallery.

The Taft Gallery--with its three-level displays, spiral staircases, sculpture pond, fake marble surfaces, 34-extension telephone and mixed bag of modern and contemporary art--seemed more make-believe museum than gallery, but the designers got some things right, or nearly so.

Most of the works had proper labels, generally spelled right. And many pieces had little red dots beside them. Well, big hot pink, Day-Glo dots actually. But they didn't mean the art was sold, as in gallery language; they simply bore numbers keying them to the list of works handed out at the entrance.

While the aesthetes silently peered around the movie crowd to see the art, conversation generally divided into two camps. One, within ear shot of Glimcher and producer-director Ivan Reitman, gushed "Oh, this is marvelous. I feel that I've been transported to a New York gallery."

The other, clustered in corners, muttered that 5-year-old children could do better or indulged in creative interpretation. One man's opinion of an abstract painting by Willem De Kooning: "It looks like a cross between a map of South America and what I had for dinner."

As the crowd drifted off to drinks and hors d'oeuvres on an adjacent set, I descended to the gallery's "entrance" in the hope of getting a better look at buildings on the other side of 57th Street, visible through the Taft's windows. A security officer stopped me, saying, "That's all there is. The rest is an illusion."

It was the most profound statement I heard at a peculiar event billed as "one of the most extraordinary gallery openings in Los Angeles art history."

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