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When Art World Meets Film World

August 09, 1996|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Perhaps Hollywood felt that a film like "Basquiat," the Julian Schnabel-directed film about the life, exploitation and addiction of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of a heroin overdose in 1988, would be a bit too much of a downer to be the focus of a big West Coast shindig. But for the art world, Wednesday night's screening and benefit reception at the Pacific Design Center was something to crow about despite the downbeat nature of the story.

"It's the first feature film ever made by a visual artist about a contemporary visual artist," said Didi Dunphy, president of trustees for the Santa Monica Museum of Art, host of the $75-a-head affair. A total of $30,000 went to benefit the Santa Monica Museum, which is scheduled to move into Bergamot Station later this year.

Tinseltown glitz was almost completely absent among the 400 or so celebrants. Only one of the film's principal actors was present, and Schnabel couldn't make it due to "other commitments." Martin Mull and Gina Gershon put in appearances, but it was really the art world that weighed in with noted names, including David Hockney, John Baldessari, Lyle Ashton Harris and Charles Arnoldi. Also showing up were tennis pro-turned-art dealer John McEnroe and tonsorial tycoon Vidal Sassoon.

After the screening, guests sampled fare from several L.A. eateries.

Some pans of the film had already hit the press, perhaps generating diminished expectations. Typical comment at the party was, "Not as bad as I expected."

The real buzz in the room was dedicated to art world in-talk, most of it about Schnabel, who was played by Gary Oldman in the film.

"I didn't figure that Julian would be able to keep his ego out of the movie," said Arnoldi. "He put those Warhol paintings of himself in there and, well, I was sort of surprised he picked such a thin actor to play him."

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