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City of Angles

The Art of Stargazing

July 05, 2002|GINA PICCALO AND LOUISE ROUG

When Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein opened a show of his paintings recently, celebrities crowded a downtown gallery. Leonardo DiCaprio rubbed elbows with Marilyn Manson. Beck chatted with Kevin Smith. Mena Suvari stopped for a photo op, and Sean Penn lent his cool. For a recent transplant, Helnwein attracted much Hollywood.

Beyond the paintings, actor Jason Lee was the reason for the high celebrity quotient.

Lee recently created the Jason Lee Foundation for the Arts to support contemporary artists through grants and exhibitions. This was the foundation's first opening in its new 3,000-square-foot downtown space, and Lee had pulled Hollywood strings to amp up the star wattage.

"You can use Hollywood to your advantage," he said recently in his photography studio. At the opening, he said, guests had expected a typical industry schmooze party but had been drawn in by the art--haunting large-scale works, some of stillborn children. "They were enthralled by the work," he said. "It was a quiet, strange exhibit."

If people come for the celebrities but end up looking at the art, he has achieved his goal, he said.

For Helnwein, the mix of music, Hollywood and artists had served another purpose--generating more work.

He and Manson had agreed to do a project together, and Smith had commissioned him to do a large scale painting of his son. Helnwein couldn't wait to meet Dennis Hopper.

He was following in the (big) footsteps of another Austrian. As it had for Arnold, L.A. lay glittering in front of Helnwein. He was glad he had come West.

"New York is dead," he said.

Lee explained his vision for the foundation--drawing more people to contemporary art, and, in particular, to the gallery on Traction Avenue--as he and Helnwein gave a tour of Lee's studio and the gallery around the corner. (Helnwein has a studio loft next door to Lee's.)

In Lee's studio, one of Helnwein's canvases, "Epi- phany II (Presentation at the Temple)," a hyperrealist painting in blue tones, depicts a young girl lying on a kitchen table in front of a semi-circle of disfigured men in formal suits.

"People are used to seeing things 24 frames a second," said Lee, adding that his goal was to get people to concentrate on just one frame at a time. "This town needs it more than anywhere else."

The Next Generation

Next week's opening of "Road to Perdition," a father-son story starring Tom Hanks as a hit man for the Irish mob in Depression-era Chicago, marks a first for the Zanuck family, one of Hollywood's most powerful movie clans. It's the debut producing credit for the family's youngest member: Dean Zanuck, 29.

With this picture, the Zanuck movie-making gene will have been passed to the third generation. Patriarch Darryl Zanuck founded 20th Century Films, which, after a merger, became 20th Century Fox. Then his son, Richard Zanuck, became the youngest corporate studio head at 28. Richard went on to produce several Academy Award-winning films, including "The Sting" and "Jaws," and he and his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck, earned Oscars for "Cocoon" and "Driving Miss Daisy."

Their sons Harrison, 31, and Dean joined the Zanuck Co. about five years ago. Now, Richard says, "I have tentacles through Lili and the boys that keep me up to date and au courant."

Dean recalled the adrenalin rush of watching his idea land in the hands of Steven Spielberg and reach the screen starring some of the industry's most well-respected talent. The graphic novel on which "Road" is based was sent to him from "a pretty obscure literary agent" in 2000.

He pitched the idea over the phone to his father, who was monitoring work on "Rules of Engagement" in Morocco. Dean said his father "saw ... the father-and-son relationship that was the real core of it all. He told me to send it to Steven Spielberg. That felt good! You can't think much bigger than that!" About a week later, Hanks and director Sam Mendes were attached to the idea.

The film opens July 12 along with another Zanuck film: "Reign of Fire," starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. On that night, the father and sons will attend a Dodger game--and wait for the box office numbers to arrive from New York.

Quote/Unquote:

"It's our own ya-ya sisterhood," says Cheryl Saban on Arianna Huffington, Nancy Daly Riordan and Carol Biondi. Saban, who wrote the philanthropic guide "50 Ways to Save Our Children" (Harper Trophy), regularly meets with the three to discuss how to give. "I couldn't be living this kind of fairy-tale life, which is what I think I live, without doing this."

City of Angles runs Tuesday and Friday. E-mail angles@latimes. com

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