Getty Research Institute

Frederic Tuten and Steve Martin Talk Art and Fiction

Frederic Tuten

On October 12, novelist Frederic Tuten and actor and writer Steve Martin appeared at the Getty Center as part of the Getty Research Institute’s ongoing series Modern Art in Los Angeles.

The evening was a not only a departure from a series that typically showcases visual artists, curators, and art historians, but also one of many upcoming Getty events that will be part of Pacific Standard Time, a research initiative undertaken by the Getty Research Institute in collaboration with the Getty Foundation to document and preserve the history of postwar art in Southern California.

The sold-out audience intently listened as the two writers (and longtime friends) spoke about their personal history with the Los Angeles art scene and the boundless interactions between art and language. Martin read from his forthcoming book, An Object of Beauty, and Tuten from Self Portraits: Fictions, whose cover features a self-portrait by Lichtenstein in which his head has been replaced by a wedge of Swiss cheese. (“My cover is by Thomas Kinkade,” Martin joked.)

Following the readings, the authors were joined by Andrew Perchuk, deputy director of the Getty Research Institute, for an informal yet incisive discussion on how visual art influences their work and lives. They immediately struck a spirited and jocular chord, but that didn’t inhibit them from speaking contemplatively about their creative methods and inspirations. Nicolas Poussin, Eric Fischl, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Tom Friedman, and Steve Turner were among the highlighted artists.

Steve Martin

As mutual friends with the late Roy Lichtenstein, Martin and Tuten exchanged witticism and rare anecdotes about the artist, whose original work appears on the cover of several other Tuten novels.   Tuten’s collaboration with Lichtenstein began in the late ’60s, when Tuten was a frequent contributor for Arts Magazine and The New York Times. Tuten’s The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, for instance, wears a striking Lichtenstein book jacket and is described by Susan Sontag on the inside flap as “soda pop, a cold towel, or a shady spot under a tree for culture-clogged footsoldiers on the American long march.” A limited-edition lithograph (150 copies) was also printed in a French-accordion style fold.

Martin—who wedged the talk in between two tours, playing banjo with the Steep Canyon Rangers and promoting his book—has a rich history with Los Angeles and its visual art. He officially became a collector in 1968 when he purchased a print by Ed Ruscha. Since then, his personal collection, mostly 20th-century American art, has grown considerably and now includes works by Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Willem De Kooning, and Richard Diebenkorn.

Frederic Tuten’s book of interrelated stories Self-Portraits: Fictions is out now and Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty is slated for release November 23.

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit wacko. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.


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