Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Writer-director Stanley Tucci asks the question, “When is a piece of art truly done?” with Final Portrait, an acting workshop for Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.

The film is based upon the memoir A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, an American author who sat for a portrait by famed artist Alberto Giacometti in the 1960s, shortly before the artist died in 1966.

Lord is played by Hammer, hot off his acclaimed performance in Call Me by Your Name, with Rush embodying the craggy, difficult and just-a-little-bit-crazy Giacometti. Much of the movie simply consists of these two fine actors bantering back and forth as Rush fiddles with painting paraphernalia, and Hammer keeps still in a chair.

Does that sound boring? If the idea of watching an artist neurotically working through his painting process sounds horrifying, then yes, you will find this boring, and you should probably stay away. I found myself taken by the pic, but not completely; I admit to getting a little restless with it at times.

What makes it work is that Rush and Hammer work so well off of each other times. Hammer does good work as a Manhattanite in Paris swept away by the notion of having his likeness put on canvas—yet unaware of the semi-ordeal into which he’s getting himself. Giacometti woos Lord by telling him the whole thing should take a couple of hours, and it winds up taking weeks. Needless to say, patience is tested.

Rush’s Giacometti is a bit of a mess, openly carrying on with a local prostitute (Clémence Poésy) while his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), and brother, Diego (longtime Tucci collaborator Tony Shalhoub), try to keep him under control. His artistic genius is matched by a total scattershot way of conducting business, life and artistic endeavors. His process is lacking a certain organization and sense of purpose.

He seems like a nut, and yet anybody who has tried to do a serious painting or drawing can relate to Giacometti’s lament that a true work of art is never really done. I love to draw, but I have a hard time finishing my projects. Watching this film, I recalled an 11th-grade art class in which I constantly argued with my teacher about putting time limits on true works of art. I could never get my assignments done in time, and I knew I had spent more time on them than other kids in the class. I raged against my teacher, calling her standards unfair and completely against the notion of what true art is. “Should a young man be downgraded for his art because he did not meet a proper deadline?” I asked passionately, a query similar to the one posed by Giacometti.

Mysteriously, I got shitty grades.

OK, back on point: The film convincingly shows the struggles of an artist whose art doesn’t come easily to him. Rush’s Giacometti hilariously interrupts multiple painting sessions by exclaiming, “Oh Fuck-uh!” and slathering paint all over his canvas for the purpose of starting the whole thing over.

The film comes up with a way to end the portrait session that, while kind of cute, feels a little too tidy. That said, I guess the movie couldn’t go on for weeks and weeks. That would be brutal.

While we’ve come to know Tucci for his character-actor performances in films such as The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada, he made quite a splash back in 1996 with his directorial debut, Big Night. His directorial efforts since (The Impostors, Blind Date, Joe Gould’s Secret) weren’t bad, but he hadn’t really delivered on the promise of Big Night. Final Portrait is easily his best directorial effort since 1996, hinting that Tucci might yet have another big one in him. Final Portrait is not that big one—but it’s a good one.

Final Portrait is now showing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews

The Palm Springs Art Museum’s current show at their Palm Desert Campus looks at the relationship between around 15 artists’ sculptures and their works on paper.

Across Dimensions: Graphics and Sculpture From the Permanent Collection includes artists both well-known—Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Ellsworth Kelly and Jim Dine, for example—and lesser-known, including Dan Namingha, John Buck and Robert Hudson.

On one level, the show asks the question: Does this artist, by working in two media, create synergies or a sense of continuity that furthers that artist’s vision? The show answers with a resounding yes in some ways—although the exhibit does show some weaknesses.

Using only artwork only from the museum’s permanent collection offers both good and bad news. The positive? The curators have a defined body of work from which to choose, and their knowledge of the collection produced some well-thought-out and synergistic pairings.

But other pairings seemed contrived and/or forced. It is unclear if the less-than-successful pairings stem from limitations in the museum’s collection, or questionable choices by the organizers. Also, the exhibition includes no women artists.

The works of Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Henry Moore (1898-1986), Donald Judd (1928-1994), and Dan Namingha (1950-) show the clearest relationship between works on paper and sculpture. These striking cross-medium synergies provide that “ah-ha!” moment.

Giacometti’s portraits (including a 1949 lithograph of Tristan Tzara; a 1962 etching of Rimbaud; and a 1949 sculpture, “Diego on a Cubist Base”) demonstrate a clear alignment between print and bronze. He answers the question, “What is my aesthetic?”

A lyrical quality presents itself in Henry Moore’s lithograph “Six Reclining Figures” (1963), his bronze “Mother and Child” (1959) and his maquette (a small-scale model) “Reclining Figure #2” (1950). Moore’s way of highlighting figures in his prints gives insights into how he thinks about light hitting his sculptures.

Donald Judd’s “Untitled” woodcuts (1988) and his concrete sculpture, also “Untitled” (1998-2001) are rather massive and imposing. Despite being printed on a soft, cream-colored paper, these woodcuts—printed with ultramarine ink—demand attention. Similarly, the concrete does not merely exist in the outdoor sculpture garden; it takes over its space. Despite being situated in two different areas, these works are pure Judd.

A member of the Hopi-Teva nation, Dan Namingha creates imagery that celebrates the kachina, a symbolic representation of anything in the real world. Namingha effectively straddles figurative and non-representational imagery in three works: a 1985 lithograph, “Kachina Mana”; a 1997 chine-collé, “Hemis Kachina”; and a 1997 bronze, “Kachina Montage.” Namingha clearly shows how connected he is to his Native American roots—and his sculpture is as insightful as any other piece in the exhibition.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was, of course, one of the most prolific 20th century artists—which makes the apparent disconnect between his print “Fetes des Faunes” (1957) and ceramic sculptures, “Male” and “Female,” all the more puzzling. The print is powerful, energetic and complex. The sculptures, in contrast, appear minimal and simplistic.

Despite some clear limitations, the exhibition is worth the trip to the Art Museum’s Palm Desert Campus.

Across Dimensions: Graphics and Sculpture From the Permanent Collection continues through Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday through Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday. Admission is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors and students; and free to members, active military, kids 12 and younger, and everyone after 4 p.m. on Thursdays, as well as the second Sunday of every month. For more information, call 760-346-5600, or visit

Victor Barocas is a photographer, author and educator. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Visual Arts