Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
He wore his coveralls, probably, said a fellow artist who remembered seeing him last in more monk-like attire, because it was a "dress-up party."
For Mark di Suvero, the reason he was in Georgetown at all, after all those years when he wouldn't come near this city, was really quite simple.
"They invited my mother to tea with Mrs. Mondale."
Well, maybe. But the reason there was a party in the first place was that there was a film and the reason there was a film was that there was Mark di Suvero, sculptor.
Now Mark di Suvero, sculptor, isn't the kind of guy who really enjoys having films made about him.Even if they do win Chicago Film Festival silver wards and are chosen to be among the 160 films being shown here as part of the American Film Institute's 10-day long 10th anniversary celebration. Thursday night the celebration reaches the climax with a benefit gala, "The Stars Salute America's Favorite "Movies," in which more than a dozen stars such as Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Lily Tomlin, Lauren Bacall, Sidney Poitier, go on stage to entertain a black-tie crowd paying from $25 to $500 a seat.
"You're going to ask me my impression," di Suvero is saying of the film about himself, leaning on his cane Monday night in Ina Ginsburg's Georgetown drawing room. "It's umprintable.
It's also like watching another person - "like I was dead" - and di Suvero, 44, it not a bit comfortable with that feeling. What also bothered him, he says, was the treatment of his political position, a position so intense that he left the country in 1971 in protest over American intervention in Vietnam.
"What good does it do to leave? Well, I'll tell you. Art does good for people so the good I was doing with my art was for a sick society. And I didn't want to do any good for a sick society like ours."
In Paris, near the end of that self-imposed exile, he became the first American whose works were exhibited in the Jardin des Tuileries. That distinction didn't go over too well with the chauvinistic French.
"At least," laughed Pierre-Frantz Chapou, then with the French Ministry of Culture but more recently with the Kennedy Center, everybody in Paris was saying, "He was pumping us some oil."
Barbara Rose, who grew up in Washington but went off to become an art critic, historian, author and now creator of the film, "Mark di Suvero, Sculptor" had an "obsession" to do something on di Suvero. She wangled $2,500 out of the Whitney Museum, then persuaded photographer Francois de Menil to fly off to France in search of di Suvero.
"We arrived in Paris in a snowstorm, rented a plane that Francois flew to Chalon-sur-Saone where Mark was living. All I think of was, 'When this plane goes down. Francois' name will be first.'"
De Menil - of the Houston de Menils who are also of the French Schlumbergers and of oil-drilling technology and performance pipe and, well, money - said they wanted to make something that was more "alive" than other art films. Something that would show di Suvere's work, inhibitions, daily life - not an easy subject."
"The strongest statement in the film," de Menil said, "was why Mark never came back for his father's funeral (his father died while di Suvero worked in a French factory). It was a political statement. I couldn't have done that."
"He got his master's degree in philosophy from the University of California," said Mark's mother, Matilda di Suvero, who does not look her 80 years. "After school, when he was a little boy, a Mrs. Lowell fromBoston taught him art, and she started him as a sculptor. He did small things then."
Matilda di Suvero's son is sparring with Joseph Hirshhorn, the nuseum's name-ssake across the room. "How do you like the idea of something of mine free?" di Suvero prods the collector. "I couldn't have afforded it," snaps Hirshhorn.
"It" is the giant piece of sculpture that the scrap dealers of America have comissioned for the Hirshhorn. "I love it," says Mark di Suvero of the patron group. "They feel they're giving a gifit to the nation. They're all sons of immigrants and they hope other trade associations will follow suit."
Di Suvero's early relationship with Hirshhorn was "abrasive." "He used to rip me off as an artist in a wheelchair. He'd buy art from the benefits but not the bread from the artists."
Hirshhorn, meanwhile, has fled to another part of the room, swallowed up by the people Polly Kraft and the Ginsburg have invited to supper before they all go off to watch Mark di Suvero on screen.
The sculptor, that is. Not the actor.