Back in the 1970's when Robert De Niro was breaking out in films--Bang the Drum Slowly, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver--his dad Robert De Niro, Sr. was a painter of note, influenced by the European modernists Manet, Matisse, and Picasso, but never to equal the fame of his actor son. By the time De Niro, Sr. died in 1993 of prostate cancer, he left behind a significant body of work, journals and other writings revealing pride in his actor son, homosexuality, and depression. Now De Niro, the son, encouraged by his Tribeca Films producing partner Jane Rosenthal put together a documentary about his father, Remembering the Artist, directed by Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir that will air on HBO on Monday night.
On Thursday night at the DC Moore Gallery in Chelsea, Robert De Niro's paintings eclipsed all the stars. The actor's friends, Christopher Walken, Thelma Schoonmaker, Regis Philbin and wife Joy praised the work. Tony Bennett, a painter, had never met De Niro's dad, admiring the exhibit. In fact, De Niro had a show in Peggy Guggenheim's Art of the Century gallery, a major early recognition, and continued to exhibit throughout his life. The exhibition catalogue lists his shows with bibliography and also features a 1958 ARTnews essay about the artist with photographs by Rudy Burckhardt.
Albert Kresch, a fellow painter, speaks about the artists' milieu, the Cedar Tavern, as a mecca for abstract expressionists like Kline, DeKooning, and Pollock, noting that De Niro would have nothing to do with it, feeling himself superior, as art world tastes shifted toward the commercial and pop Warhol, Lichtenstein and Kelly. Little is revealed about Virginia Admiral, De Niro's mother, a painter too of some early acclaim who met her husband studying with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. She stopped painting, needing to be more practical, she told her son, a resonant glimpse of the talented, pioneering women of that time, and their thwarted ambitions.
At a Q&A after the MoMA screening, Geeta Gandbhir said it was most difficult to make a lively film portrait when the subject is dead. With De Niro's wistful interview at center, the documentary remembers a significant artist of his time, and stands as an eloquent tribute of son to father.
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