In recent issues of Scene4, I presented a sequence of scenes from my screenplay THE GODDESS IN EXILE, a fictionalized account of the brief life of Cuban born artist Ana Mendieta that deals with themes of wife murder, the natural versus the man-made world and the mythic feminine. Ana Mendieta’s death at age 36 became a scandal that rocked the art world at its zenith making headlines. My screenplay adapts the basic story of her alleged murder by her husband, prominent minimalist artist Carl Andre, who was acquitted by a judge without a jury and explores the premise ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The action takes place in the vivid milieu of the New York City art scene in the 1970's, capturing the excitement of the elite intelligentsia with character vignettes from the highest echelons of American artists and art world doyennes.
In these scenes distrust builds between Hans (based on Carl Andre) and Elvira (based on Ana Mendieta). Elvira was warned by her friend Joanne that Hans would be unfaithful, but feels that his prominence in the art world will help her career. When a wealthy collector visits Hans’s studio and asks to see Elvira’s work, Hans tells her the work isn’t ready yet. After seeing her art, the collector insists she buy one of Elvira’s small sculptures for $5,000. When Elvira returns, Hans lies that he persuaded the dealer to buy her work. When Hans top dealer Vasseli (based on Leo Castelli) and accountant visit they suggest that Hans make smaller saleable art rather than large museum installations. The advance he gets will be the last unless he complies. Hans discourages Vasseli from looking at Elvira’s work. After they leave, Hans goes into Elvira’s studio and angrily
destroys a clay sculpture of a pregnant woman. He then heads to Max’s. When his friend Dave warns him that the value of his work is going down and that Elvira might be invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale and not him, he punches Dave to the ground. He then flirts with an attractive girl seated next to him.
After World War II from the late 1940s to the 80’s when the avant-garde shifted from Europe to America, prominent art dealer and gallery owner Leo Castelli (September 4, 1907 – August 21, 1999) was at the helm. With a mixture of expertise and insight he was instrumental in discovering and promoting pioneers in the Abstract Expressionist, Hard Edge, Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalist and Conceptual movements that dominated the New York art scene. He was influential in making major artists “Stars” – trendsetters who captured and reflected a fast changing society. In the following scene my character Vaselli gives Hans a stipend that exemplified Castelli’s unique approach of supporting his stable of
artists whether or not their work sold. Dennis Hopper, an important collector, called Castelli “the godfather of the contemporary art world.”
By the 1990’s when the internet took over cultural consciousness and became the vanguard of global communication, it left visual artists behind. Their narrative began to rely on shock, distortion, the use of new tools, materials and massive size to impress their audience.
The Bienall de Venicia is still the most prestigious Art Fair in the world and as of May 11, 2019 is celebrating is 58th year. An invitation to exhibit exposes new talent to the international art market and guarantees that dealers can buy their work with confidence. So when Dave suggests to Hans that Elvira might be invited and not him, he becomes even more enraged.
GODDESS IN EXILE
ELVIRA'S (voice over)
When Hans comes in early in the morning I remember Joanne warned me that he would never be faithful. She said that I should try to be more independent and become a success in my own way. But I feel a bond with Hans and am meeting all the right people. When they come to see Hans' work I can invite them to my studio if I want. Still Hans and I feel so different about art. For me art should come from our relationship with the earth and nature, but Hans never stops with his businesslike scheming.
104 - INT. HANS LOFT - WORK AREA - AFTERNOON
[Note: HANS work area is in a corner of the loft, well lit by natural light that comes through the catty-cornered windows. The space is neat and organized with shelves that line the walls filled with various colored and shaped wooden blocks. In the center of the area is a long drafting table on top of which are a lamp, telephone and tape deck.]
HANS is seated at his drafting table carefully designing work on graph paper by filling in grids with pencil shading. He listens to music by Wagner on the tape deck.
SOUND of the phone ring. CLOSE ON the paper and watch the grid as HANS fills it in. DAVE is on the phone.
DAVE (voice on phone)
Hans, the Pierponts came down, should I send them over?
Sure, are they buying?
DAVE (on phone)
No, just scouting but - it takes them months to
make a decision.
Send them down.
CLOSE ON HANS'S grid. From the progress of the work, one half an hour has gone by. SOUND of loft bell ringing. HANS lets MRS. PIERPONT in.
I hope I'm not disturbing you. My husband is waiting in the car.
MRS. PIERPONT looks at her watch.
I'll give you a quick tour.
HANS shows MRS. PIERPONT his work. She looks rather hesitantly at several installations.
Your show at the Guggenheim was a great success. You are expecting to show at Vasseli's this year?
Yes, in the Fall.
MRS. PIERPONT walks towards the door to ELVIRA'S studio, which is open. She starts to walk in and pauses at the doorway.
You don't mind?
Of course not. I apologize for the quality of her work. My wife is just beginning.
105 - INT. ELVIRA'S STUDIO - AFTERNOON
MRS. PIERPONT is intrigued by the mixture of sculptures and handicraft and touches a few pieces with interest.
I was told she's from Peru.
HANS leans on the studio door and watches her. She picks up small fired clay nude Indian woman in a squatting position and admires it.
Oh, that's just a study.
Well, then maybe she wouldn't mind parting with it?
Oh, I'm sure she'd be honored - not at all.
MRS. PIERPONT looks at the bottom of the sculpture for a signature. She opens her pocketbook and writes out a check and hands it to HANS.
Five thousand dollars?
I'm sure she'll be very flattered.
MRS. PIERPONT heads towards the loft door and HANS follows her. HANS opens the door for her and stands in the doorway.
Be sure to tell your wife...to invite me to her first one-woman show... Good luck with your work.
After she leaves, HANS is very upset and returns to his worktable and puts his head in his hands. CLOSE ON HANS' grid. From the progress of the work, one hour has gone by. None of the emotion from MRS. PIERPONT's visit is evident in his work.
ELVIRA enters the loft carrying a bag of groceries. As she passes by HANS drafting table she puts the groceries down and looks over his shoulder at the work. HANS continues to work.
Peggy Pierpont stopped by today...
You weren't expecting her.
She was scouting, but I persuaded her to look in your studio and suggested she might like one of your smaller studies...
HANS takes MRS. PIERPONT's check out of his shirt pocket and smiles.
Quel milagro - the "Mrs. Pierpont" has one of my pieces.
ELVIRA hugs and kisses HANS.
Why - what did she say?
I talked it up a bit.
ELVIRA looks at the check in wonder.
Now I have enough money to visit my father. Hans, you are wonderful.
106 - INT. HANS LOFT LIVING SECTION - AFTERNOON
[Note: The living section of HANS loft composed of a black leather sofa, two leather armchairs and a luxurious large glass coffee table on which papers are strewn and different colored blocks act as paperweights.]
A couple of weeks later, renowned art dealer, VASSELI, [an impeccably dressed, elderly Italian man with silver hair] is seated on an armchair smoking a cigar and VASSELI'S accountant, HOWARD GREEN [a heavy balding man with horn rimmed glasses] is seated on the sofa glaring through his glasses at some papers laid out on the table. ELVIRA brings in a coffee service that includes a decanter of brandy and places it on the table. When she pours three cups, HANS grabs the coffee and takes a sip.
This coffee is too strong as usual.
HOWARD tastes his coffee.
Oh, no, it’s quite delicious, thank you Elvira. Is it Peruvian?
Yes, from my district.
VASSELI takes a sip of coffee.
Quite good. So how is your work progressing Elvira? Are you still afraid to show it to me?
No, I think now I'm ready. Peggy PIERPONT bought a small study.
HANS interrupts her and eyes her strongly.
Bring me some American coffee now.
ELVIRA leaves for the kitchen.
Her work is not ready to show yet, I wouldn't want you to waste your time.
I can decide how to spend my time.
VASELLI eyes HANS skeptically.
Your show at the Guggenheim last year was a "critical" success. Now your reputation is solid. But frankly, since then you have made only a few minor sales...under my dealership - of drawings.
You have not sold for five figures for over 12 months. You won't be able to continue your life style...
What do you guys want? You know you can't ask for heavy prices unless I have a name.
Why not make some 'smaller' - more salable installations - models. Something that might fit into a collectors' living room. I've moved your one-man show from the September slot to the spring. With six more months to work, I'm sure you will come up with a lucrative show.
VASSELI (to Howard)
Write a check to Hans for $50,000. This is an advance on your commission for the show.
VASSELI eyes HANS sharply.
If there are no sales, consider this check my last gift.
HOWARD writes a check and trying to joke, picks up one of the small blocks off the table.
Well, maybe you could sell paperweights.
This only makes HANS more infuriated.
ELVIRA returns with another tray to serve HANS his coffee. She sees how upset he is and questions him with her eyes. He looks down. When she turns to speak to VASSELI, HANS is stunned.
How can you tell an artist what to do?
An artist can always find another dealer. My gallery supports itself from the sale of my artists' work. Don't worry your pretty little head.
ELVIRA, unnerved, grabs her pocketbook and jacket.
If you'll excuse me I have an appointment.
After his quests have left, HANS, furious, paces the loft then opens the door to ELVIRA'S studio.
107 - INT. ELVIRA'S STUDIO - AFTERNOON
HANS is angry like a bull in a cage. He stands near the window of her studio and studies her work that is definitely improving and evolving. The statutes represent phases in a woman's physical growth from adolescent to motherhood and are influenced by the series of religious work ELVIRA admires. On a stand near the window is a work in progress of a pregnant woman (a self portrait).
HANS at first caresses the piece as he did when he first met ELVIRA. Then, impulsively, he punches the piece in the stomach, grabs it, squeezing the clay and throws it out the window.
108 - LOCATION SHOT MAX’S - EARLY SPRING EVENING
Location shot of the exterior of Max’s with people milling around.
109 - EXT. MAX’S - EVENING
The owner MICKEY, stands outside screening and greeting his guests - the most influential artists in the city, critics, their friends and any attractive woman that suits his fancy.
A white stretch limo pulls up in front of the bar and a well known female celebrity (e.g., Mary Tyler Moore) gets out with a handsome male escort as the driver opens door. MICKEY blocks the door to the bar as they approach and asks them if they have invitations.
No - I've heard so much about your famous steak dinner. We came to chow down.
I'm sorry its invitations only tonight for a pre-opening party and only guests with cards can come in.
The CELEBRITY opens her purse and takes out a couple hundred-dollar bills and offers them to MICKEY. He refuses.
Well, I've never been turned away in my entire life.
MICKEY shakes his head as she stalks back to her limo with her escort.
POV MICKEY looking down the street, he spots HANS walking cockily in his cowboy hat and boots. MICKEY waves enthusiastically. MICKEY and HANS greet each other with a hug.
How're your blocks coming?
Oh, they're stacking up just fine.
110 - INT. MAX’S - EVENING
We follow HANS into the bar. When HANS enters he sees his friends TONY and SUE BENNITO [a cute, bouncy redhead, now very pregnant]. They are sitting at a booth with a service of ribs and as HANS passes he pinches SUE'S cheek. He greets the folks seated at the bar who clear a place for him to sit. The bartender, GUS, greets him with a smile.
What'll it be, Hans - a draft or on the rocks?
On the rocks.
DAVE saddles up and sits next to HANS.
DAVE (to GUS)
That's on me, Gus. Make it a double.
Ok, I'll run your tab instead.
DAVE pats HANS on the back.
How's your work going?
I've got to sort my blocks by size. Want to drop by and give me a hand?
I don't see why not. But, I thought you might be angry that I took your slot. Vasseli told me today he's putting my one-man show up in September - the first show of the season - prime time.
Well, that's nothing to be bitter about.
DAVE (rubbing it in)
Vasseli sent Italian clients over. They gave me a down payment on piece for $100,000 - going up in their villa courtyard. So, without the first run show of the year the value of your work must be going down.
Now, what gives you that idea?
Oh, I thought you might be worried that your wife would be invited to the Venice Biennale instead of you?
DAVE makes a snide laugh. HANS gives DAVE a hard punch on the jaw that winds DAVE right on the floor. The guys around the bar who heard the conversation don't do anything to help DAVE.
HANS (to GUS)
He was asking for it, don't you think?
I've been wanting to do the same thing for a long time.
GUS and HANS laugh. GUS hands HANS another drink.
Here, this is on the house.
NINA, an attractive blonde woman takes DAVE'S seat next to HANS. HANS greets her with a kiss.
What a pleasant surprise? Make it a double Gus.
Why, thank you handsome. I'm Nina.
HANS (to NINA)
I just hated doing that to my best friend.
ELVIRA, who has rushed over to MAX’S, runs up to the bar and pushes people away who are standing near HANS.
Hans, what have you done? How could you destroy my art?
HANS looks at GUS and indicates an order of wine for ELVIRA and kisses her.
Chill out. I'll buy you a whole new keg of clay tomorrow. Lets make a toast. Long live art!
Goodbye. I will visit my father tomorrow.
ELVIRA runs out of Max’s.
111 - EXT. MAX’S - NIGHT
HANS stands outside Max’s sadly watching ELVIRA run down the street still holding his scotch. Not knowing whether ELVIRA is leaving him for good, his face expresses fear and regret.
HANS reenters Max’s. He returns to his seat next to NINA, nestling his head into her neck.
So... Tell me about yourself.