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DiCaprio Boosts Artist's Show

Art * The actor will contribute to an exhibition of works by the late Polish emigre sculptor Stanislav Szukalski, who was a family friend.

August 19, 2000|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leonardo DiCaprio, whose fame buoyed after the hit movie "Titanic," will shine his starlight on an obscure Los Angeles artist with an exhibition in Orange County.

DiCaprio confirmed his intention to sponsor the art show, "Struggle: The Art of Stanislav Szukalski," which opens Nov. 12 at the Laguna Art Museum.

DiCaprio will contribute up to $15,000 as part of a gift, museum officials said.

The artist, who died in 1987, was a Polish sculptor whom DiCaprio knew when the actor was a boy.

This is the first major retrospective of the artist's work since his death. He lived in Burbank until he died at age 93, virtually unrecognized in the United States.

Szukalski "was a Polish mystic and a Promethean artist whose message, in a borrowed typeface from a dead language, would mean: 'Help Yourself to the Sacred Fire.' It is prankish that he is still so unknown," said DiCaprio and his father, George, in a written statement.

The show is titled after one of Szukalski's best-regarded sculptures, "Struggle," a hand with fingers made to resemble an eagle and other bird-like creatures attacking one another.

Made in 1917, the piece will be shown alongside more than 25 other bronze sculptures, drawings, scrapbook pages and sketchbooks.

Fusing the avant-garde, futurism and Cubism styles into a single form, Szukalski's works verge on the fantastic and humanistic.

Close friends nicknamed him "Stas."

"Stas loved to sculpt hands; his ingenuity can be measured in the manifold way that he used them to express his ideas," the DiCaprios' statement reads. "The hands are the artist-creator passing ideas to use that glow and shimmer when compared to the dull, mordant concepts that have gained acceptance in the present day."

The sculptor befriended the DiCaprios after he moved to Los Angeles in 1940. George DiCaprio was an underground comics artist and distributor who introduced Stas to his son, who is named after Leonardo da Vinci.

"I introduced George to Stas," said Glenn Bray, who owns the artist's estate and is executor of Archives Szukalski, based in Los Angeles.

Bray and Szukalski met with the DiCaprios at their home in 1983.

"Leo was a little rug-rat running around. Stas, who was always fascinated by forms, commented on how long Leo's arms were for his body and that he had a striking face," Bray said.

Described by those familiar with his work as a forgotten genius with an eccentric personality, Szukalski was honored by the Polish government in 1936 before most of his bronze work was destroyed by the Nazis, melted down for war efforts or stolen.

The sculptor, who was broke when he moved to Los Angeles, was known in small artists circles.

This is not the first time the Laguna Art Museum has collaborated with celebrity. In the 1940s, Hollywood photographer William Mortensen had a studio in Laguna Beach and his work was shown at the museum. In 1993, actor Nicolas Cage supported the Kustom Kulture exhibition. Horror writer Clive Barker also showcased his paintings in 1995.

DiCaprio's contribution is an effort to bring life back to Szukalski's legacy.

"Szukalski is one of those truly extraordinary artists who had been forgotten through history," said Tyler Stallings, museum curator of exhibitions.

"He is an artist who did not follow the mainstream modernism," Stallings said. "It's really fascinating that he developed this amazing new vision."

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