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Dan Flavin at Max's Kansas City
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|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is from the New York Observer, May 8,2003 |
Richard Bernstein, 1939-2002
by Frank DiGiacomo
please," reads a black sticker on the tall red door to the ground-floor
apartment that artist Richard Bernstein kept at the Chelsea
Hotel. And for almost two weeks, this city seemed all too willing
On Oct. 18, Bernstein's body was found on the other
side of that door, in his high-ceilinged studio apartment that once was
part of the Chelsea's grand ballroom. Bernstein, whose 63rd birthday
would have fallen on Halloween, had been suffering from AIDS and an
ailing heart and, according to friends, a note found in his apartment
that said simply "Do not resuscitate" left some with the suspicion that
he had taken his own life.
Eleven days later, after Bernstein's
body had been claimed by his family and buried at Mount Ararat Cemetery
in Farmingdale, Long Island, those who had worked and played with the
Bronx-born, Long Island-raised artist were still learning of his death,
and his passing had yet to be noted by the paper of record, The New York Times.
quiet of Bernstein's death was ironic in light of the fact that his
artwork had amplified the celebrity of so many. For 15 years,
beginning in 1972, Bernstein's signature artwork graced the monthly
covers of Interview magazine, that seminal celebrity chronicle
of the social, fashion and art crowd that had met in Andy Warhol's
Factory and the back room of Max's Kansas City in the 60's and
catalyzed in the sybaritic heat of Studio 54 in the late 70's.
an airbrush, pencil and pastel on photographic portraits, Bernstein
made the up-and-coming celebrities of the era-Sylvester Stallone,
Calvin Klein, Madonna, even wholesome Mary Tyler Moore-look as sleek
and sexy as our nostalgized memories of that era. "Things are stronger,
faster and further," Paloma Picasso wrote of Bernstein's oeuvre in a
published collection of his work, Megastar. "Superstars became Megastars."
though Bernstein's work helped put many a celebrity into the hot zone,
he never seemed to be able to make the same conversion in terms of his
own career. "I never felt that Richard got the full recognition for his
contribution to the art world," said Steve Newman, director of still
photography at 20th Century Fox studios. "He never got the
representation or put himself out there enough to earn the kind of
reputation that other contemporaries of his did. I still think it's a
"He was an astonishing person who lived up to about 25 percent of his potential," said his friend, the artist Toby Rabiner.
Mr. Newman and other friends and acquaintances of the artist said that,
though he continued to create his hyper-realistic portraits on
commission---designer Tom Ford was a recent subject---Bernstein's art
had moved in more abstract directions.
"The last thing he wanted
to do were portraits," said the photographer and lighting designer
Arthur Weinstein, a friend of several decades who lives in the Chelsea
Hotel. "He was pretty actively painting up until about six months
before he died."
Some who knew Bernstein said he never broke out
because his work, which was clearly influenced by Warhol's art, was too
often confused with the Pope of Pop's work, and that Warhol, who
enjoyed autographing the covers of fans' copies of Interview, didn't work too hard to disabuse them of that notion.
friends said that Bernstein was too nice and not ambitious enough, and
that he was often taken advantage of by those who were in a position to
And still others, such as Mr. Newman, said that,
though Bernstein "would have liked a little more recognition," he
essentially "was happy."
"Material things didn't mean that much
to him," said Mr. Newman, who remembered that Bernstein's father once
had offered to help him buy a condominium in the city, but that, after
considering it briefly, the artist decided he'd rather live in his
artwork-crammed studio at the Chelsea.
"He was very appreciative
of small pleasures," said Ms. Rabiner, who noted that, in recent years,
both she and Bernstein had lived on a shoestring.
About a week
before he died, Ms. Rabiner said that she treated Bernstein on a walk
in a small park near the Chelsea Hotel. During their excursion,
he turned to her and uttered a phrase that the two friends often used
with each other when one had done something thoughtful for the other:
"Another happy-with-so-little story."
But in the heady days of
the 60's and 70's, Bernstein saw much higher highs. "I can't think of
anybody who had more fun than him, including [Studio 54 co-owner] Steve
Rubell," Mr. Weinstein said. "He never had any money, but he had great
"He lived this amazing bohemian lifestyle," Mr. Newman said.
knew everybody. He was one of the great social magnates of Studio 54.
He had so much knowledge-firsthand knowledge," as well as "an amazing
ability to walk up to anybody and engage them in a conversation."
was an elegance about him," said the publicist Jules Feiler, who had
done some recent work for Bernstein, including getting his art
displayed on the fifth floor of the Gershwin Hotel. "When you went in
to have an ice coffee and a cigarette with Richard Bernstein, it was
like visiting royalty."
The son of a haberdasher, Bernstein got
his bachelor's degree in fine arts from the Pratt Institute and did
some graduate work at Columbia. After showing some early work at the
New York's Terrain gallery in 1965 and getting some critical, he fell
in with the crowd in the back room at Max's Kansas City. He called the
room the "Bucket of Blood" and would eventually immortalize it in a
red-hued print that became a coveted gift for friends and associates.
Glenn O'Brien was the editor of Interview when Bernstein was hired in
1972, and he remembered his former colleague as "an old-world bohemian
type that you don't see much of in New York anymore. Nobody was allowed
to smoke pot at the Factory, but Richard was the only person before
Jean-Michel Basquiat who could get away with it. He would light up with
impunity. If anyone had any attitude, he would tut-tut them and correct
their attitude." Mr. O'Brien added: "Fred was fun, but Richard was
With his dark, wavy hair, good looks and unfussy
fashion sense-black jeans, leather jackets-Bernstein attracted members
of both sexes, and though he was gay, he had at least one significant
relationship with a woman, the actress and photographer Berry Berenson.
Bernstein was dating-and at one point, according to Ms. Rabiner
and other friends engaged to-Ms. Berenson when he began working at Interview.
And, many of those friends said, he encouraged Ms. Berenson to
interview the actor Anthony Perkins, upon whom she had developed a
crush, for the magazine.
"He lived to regret that," said Ms.
Rabiner. Ms. Berenson fell for Mr. Perkins and Bernstein was
crushed. "He suffered a nervous breakdown at that point," said Mr.
Still, Bernstein maintained a close friendship with
Ms. Berenson and was devasted when she died in the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001.
Eventually, Bernstein was able to lose himself
in the drug-and-alcohol-fueled scene that sprung up around Studio 54.
His friends ran the gamut from French actor Alain Delon to disco
proprietress Regine to Virgil Thompson to the angular actress and
singer Grace Jones.
In a phone call from London, Ms. Jones
recalled that Bernstein was "more like family than a friend. He
was a godfather and art father to my son, Paulo. We called him Uncle
"He was an extremely loyal friend," Ms. Jones
added. When times were flush, Ms. Jones said she often threw
lavish parties with "bathtubs full of Cristal champagne" and her
mother's Jamaican cooking, but she recounted how once, during a later,
leaner time in her life, she asked friends to bring their own liquor to
one of her soirees. "I remember only about five people showed up," she
said. Bernstein was one of them. "So you can see he was very special in
my life," she said.
Indeed, Ms. Jones said that she and Bernstein served as mutual muses for each other. He did the artwork for her first single, I Need A Man, and then for every one of her albums up to 1980's Warm Leatherette. Bernstein also worked with artist Antonia López on Ms. Jones' 1986 vampire movie, Vamp. And she said it was Bernstein's idea to dress her as a luminescent chandelier for her dramatic performance of La Vie en Rose at a tribute to the artist Erté at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fox's Mr. Newman said that he met Bernstein in 1985 when the studio
executive was working with Ms. Jones on the James Bond film, A View to a Kill.
Mr. Newman said it was Bernstein's suggestion to hire the photographer
George Hurrell and photograph Ms. Jones in the glamorous 40's style for
which Hurrell had become famous. "The pictures of Grace ran in
magazines all over the world," Mr. Newman said.
"Richard to me
was the connection between the old glamour of Hollywood world and the
art world, but he added his own contemporary sensibility to it, which
was like his art work," Mr. Newman said.
And, like a number of
friends, Mr. Newman is worried about what is going to happen to that
art work. Friends said Bernstein had written out a will, but
failed to sign it before he died. Since his death, his apartment
has been sealed by the police department pending settlement of his
estate, according to management at the Chelsea.
survived by a sister Ellen Trifon, and a brother, David Bernstein, as
well as a number of nieces and nephews. (Though friends said Bernstein
was estranged from his family for many years because of his lifestyle,
chances are, the fate of his estate-Mr. Newman estimated that his
friend left behind "thousands" of artworks, including his Interview
output, though Mr. Weinstein said the number was much smaller-and his
legacy as an artist will be determined by their actions. "It's in the
family's hands," Mr. Newman said. "I just hope that the family
understands the value of it."
Meanwhile, Ms. Jones said she
was planning to start an AIDS foundation in Bernstein's name. "His
birthday would have been on the 31st. We were supposed to meet then,"
she said. "I'm going to miss him but we have to celebrate his life
before. He would like that."
|Biography from RoGallery.com:|
|Richard Bernstein is an oil painter and illustrator who portrays simple
shapes and forms. As a "chronicler of his times," he did portraits of
Salvador Dali, Ryan O'Neal, and Racquel Welch, exemplifying the 'pop'
Born in New York in 1939, Bernstein studied at Pratt
Institute and Columbia University. He has the singular honor of
doing the cover art for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine where he has created an unmistakeably identifiable style that is instantly recognizable as the "Bernstein Look."
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