Torso de Force

US W Magazine December 2003


Polo-playing mogul Peter Brant has many trophies: wild animals, Warhols and Basquiats. Now, thanks to art world prankster Maurizio Cattelan, the biggest trophy of them all - Brant's wife, supermodel Stephanie Seymour - joins them on the wall.

{ By Julie L. Belcove }

It's Sunday morning in Greenwich, Connecticut, in the early fall, and Stephanie Seymour is lying nude and motionless on her dining room floor. Or is she? It sure looks like Seymour, as her husband and several gawking visitors hover over her smooth, flawless body, contemplating her nature-defying breats, her fine-boned face and her catatonic gaze—the kind peculiar to models on the runway. That this creature lacks legs, is made of wax and is swaddled in plastic wrap up to her neck does little to allay the eerie sensation that we are standing over a corpse. But then the flesh-and-bone Seymour comes gliding down the grand staircase, trilling her good mornings, her hair still damp from the shower, her feet bare.

The presence of the real thing alongside the impostor prompts the kind of scrutiny normally reserved for one's bathroom mirror.
"The expression is exact," agrees Peter Brant, Seymour's polo-playing newsprint-mogul husband, who is one of the world's preeminent art collectors. Dressed in white Levi's and a navy blue pullover sweater and doing his utmost to project casualness, Brant can't stop fidgeting. His wife, meanwhile, a woman who has made a handsome living since she was a teenager by being sensually, brazenly, gloriously on display, is suddenly having a bout of modesty. The couple agreed nearly a year ago that Seymour would sit for a sculpture by the notoriously mischievous artist Maurizio Cattelan, but now the thought of hanging the nude doppelgänger in their stately home—the purpose of today's gathering—has her pleading embarrassment. "I don't even like a lot of pictures of myself in the house," she explains, her high-pitched voice as thin as her long limbs.

At least part of the trepidation, no doubt, has to do with the fact that the work in question is no simple portrait, in the flattering tradition of commissions made by ego-stroking artists for rich patrons over the centuries. This object, still untitled, is a conceptual piece dreamed up by Cattelan (who today is conspicuously absent) on his first visit to the Brants', in 2002. He observed the couple—because the piece as much about Brant as Seymour—in their natural habitat, surrounded by Warhols, Basquiats and Lichtensteins, with Jeff Koons's 43-foot Puppy, planted anew with flowers each spring, sitting obediently in a paddock a few gently rolling hills away from the main house, a replica of Mount Vernon.

Cattelan, the most recent addition to the Brants' stable of artists (his taxidermied pigeons perch on a chandelier and over draperies; his Richard III, a tiny brown rabbit with lion's eyes, sits on the library mantel), was duly impressed with what he saw. Then he noticed the gazelles and buffolo shot by Brant on safari in Kenya in 1970 and mounted on the library walls. Cattelan's gaze darted from Brant's art trophies to his trophy heads to his trophy wife, and he knew the next work of art he had to make: Seymour, hunted and bagged.

The idea, Cattelan says, was to make a piece about a "domestic safari." "I like when pieces are friendly, but when you get too close, they slap your face," he says in a phone conversation a few weeks after the installation.

Few artists—and even fewer married people—could have faulted Brant had he shied away from Cattelan's proposed commission. The merry prankster himself, quite possibly afraid of being slugged, filtered his ideas through Philippe Segalot, the well-regarded private dealer who accompanied him to Greenwich. "He wasn't brave enough to ask me," Brant says, though he insists Cattelan's shyness was unwarranted. "I love his work." He goodnaturedly slaps the leg of Koons's provocative Woman in Tub in the foyer. "Maurizio's medium is ideas. I think he's one of the most interesting talents around today. If you like somebody's work, you have to be very open about their ideas and give them some freedom."

So for two days last March Cattelan and the Parisian sculptor Daniel Druet set up shop here at the Brants' White Birch Farm, along with Segalot and Emmanuel Perrotin, Cattelan's Paris-based gallerist. Cattelan has long relied on Druet—who has made wax likenesses of everyone from the Pope to Julio Iglesias—to realise his ideas. "Maurizio is like a filmmaker," says Perrotin. "He uses the capacity of other people."

When Seymour alighted to first morning, in tight jeans and Prada heels, a tiny green top revealing her exquisite collar bone and décolletage, layers of pale ping gloss laminating her lips, the grown men lapsed into their inner children: giggling and blushing 14-year-olds. With Cattelan and Druet in search of the proper light, Seymour led the group to the Robert Venturi house that Brant and his first wife, Sandy, built as their home on the expansive property and that Brant and his second wife now use as an office.

Upstairs in the former master bedroom Druet, working with clay, began a bust of Seymour. Segalot and Perrotin, who together stood to make a handsome commission from the commission, did their best to conceal their apprehension as Druet's work progressed in surprisingly crude fashion, capturing Seymour's graceful neck and shoulders but little else. Luckily, this bust was to serve merely as inspiration for the final piece. Druet, in halting English, explained that the clay version was a study of his subject's "psychology." He would later destroy it and upon returning to Paris make a separate wax sculpture, using the same process he employs for mannequins in wax museums.

When on the second day Brant, wearing a gray suit and drinking a Diet Coke, made a brief appearance, he took one look at the bust and deadpanned, "Great. You look like a schoolteacher." He quickly turned and left, and Seymour apologetically said, "I always wanted to be a schoolteacher." (Brant's curtness may have had something to do with a bizarre but embarrassing story that The New York Times ran prominently the very next day, reporting that a fellow Greenwich resident had field suit against him, charging that her longtime dealer had sold her Warhol painting Red Elvis to Brant without her permission. Brant told the Times, which noted in the second sentence that he is a convicted tax evader, that he thought the dealer was reputable.)

While the silver-haired Druet worked up a sweat kneading and pounding the clay, Cattelan worked his public image, mugging for the camera, teasing Druet by making marks on the sculpture when the elder artist wans't looking, and using the bed as a trampoline. Occasionally he would sprawl on it and moan, "Stephanieeee."

"It's strange feeling to have someone look at you for so long," Seymour said, gently ignoring his antics the way a mother pretends not to notice her child's tantrum.
"You're used to it," Cattelan responded from the floor, where he was lying on a rug behind Seymour.
"No, I'm not. When someone's drawing or painting you, it's a different feeling," she explained. "You really feel they can look through you. In a photograph I can hide myself. Everyone wants to hide themselves a bit, and there's a camera in front of a person's face, so there' something between you and the photographer. With a sculpture or drawing, nothing is between you. You always feel they can see into your soul."

Over lunch, prepared by the Brants' private chef, the men, in French, discussed the challenge of faithfully fabricating Seymour's breasts. When she left the table, one of the men asked me, the only other woman present, wheter they are real.

Real or not, they are spectacular, and six months later, when the finished piece arrives in a crate from Paris, the wax ones are, too. The bareness of the body serves to both sexualize and animalize it (as do the deer-in-the-head-lights eyes). Intended to be mounted on the wall from its rounded buttocks, the figure's back is arched like the neck of Brant's gazelle. But if Brant has a sense of humor about his latest trophy—and about being the wealthy, older husband of a bombshell Victoria's Secret model—it is not in fine form today. Rather, he tries to deflect comparisons of the Cattelan to his hunting souvenirs. "It's not like a trophy of an animal. It's more like a female symbol of a guiding light," he theorizes, "like the piece on a Pontiac car, or a ship. The way it's curved resembles something like the Greeks would have had on a ship." He points to the gilded, winged female torso adorning an early 19th-century Charles Honore Lannuier table in the foyer and postulates that it, not the animal heads in the other room, was Cattelan's inspiration.

As Seymour returns to the master suite to have her hair and makeup done for pictures, everyone else starts wandering around the first floor looking for a place to hang the new Cattelan. Segalot is immediately drawn to the entry hall, where he thinks it would be a good company with Warhol paintings of two icons: Elizabeth Taylor and Mona Lisa. Brant's collection of Warhols is considered among the best, if not the best, in the world, as are his Basquiat holdings. The house is drunk with both. (Brant befriended Warhol in the late Sixties, helped produce some of his films and later bought the artist's Interview Magazine, which Brant's first wife now runs.) Brant collects very few artists, but he does so in depth. He introduced Seymour to the pursuit; though they collect the same artists, they acquire work separately. Her first sculpture was Jeff Koons's Naked—a playfully provocative porcelain work of a boy and a girl, her gaze directed not at the proffered flower but at his youthful member—which now stands in the library. She had to pay dealer Larry Gagosian in installments every three months.

Segalot, determined to get prominet placement for the Cattelan, suggests putting it where one of the jewels of Brant's collection, Warhol's light blue Shot Marilyn, now faces off from over the library mantel with a giant Mao. But any location in the proximity of a fireplace is ruled out: The sculpture is made of wax, after all. In the library with the other animal heads? Too crowded. Opposite Woman in Tub? (The Cattelan does seem to mimic the Koons, though Seymour's hands modestly cover her bare breasts, while the bather's nipples seductively peek through her fingers). "There's supposed to be a Picasso there," Brant says with a sly smile.

Soon Brant's good friend Tony Shafrazi, the man who defaced Picasso's Guernica but an art world fixture just the same, shows up with Nobu co-owner and movie producer Meir Teper in tow. They join the search until the house party, still waiting for Seymour, adjourns to the terrace, where the men take turns a Ping-Pong.

"Very rarely does portraiture transcend," Shafrazi says, downing an ice tea in the hot sun. "The average portrait is a one-dimensional thing. This is a work of art. Like Marylin. There's something both beautiful and macabre about it."

All well and good, but here "Stephanie" is safely ensconced in her own home < Segalot and Perroting still have two other versions—each with a different hairstyle—to sell (the price is confidential but expected to be in the neighborhood of half a million dollars each). "The idea of Stephanie naked in someone else's house must be a little upsetting to Peter," Segalot hypothesizes. "I think that may have been Maurizio's idea." Cattelan does enjoy tweaking his patrons; he ones made a tiny replica of a collector's nonagenarian grandmother—completed after her death—to sit in the man's refrigerator.

It's pushing two o'clock by the time Seymour descends from her bedroom, and by now Brant is antsy: He has a polo math at three, which seems to be news to his wife. "It's a very important match," he tells her.

With Seymour demurring from hanging the piece too prominently in the foyer. Brant suggests the vestibule leading from the foyer to the powder room. "That would be intimate," he cajoles. "You'd see Mona Lisa, Liz and you."
"It's a powder room," Seymour retorts.
"Yeah, but it's a beautiful room," Brant says, growing increasingly anxious about his polo match.
"It's powder room—you have to have a mirror there!" Seymour says, before exclaiming, "Don't rush. Why are you rushing?"
"Because I have to leave in 15 minutes."

The party makes another quick tour of the house, ruling out the dining room (the wallpaper's too expensive), one sitting room (the blue walls are too dark) and another (the piece doesn't look good with the Lichtensteins). The clock ticking—and the gloved art handlers tiring of a carrying the thing—the party arrives back in the foyer, where someone suggests removing the small twin Warhol Maos by the front door, a location, as it happens, that no visitor to the house could possibly overlook. The low rumbling of discontent that had accompanied every other possibility subsides, and Teper declares, "I think everybody agrees."

As Brant departs for the polo field and the others eat lunch on the terrace, Steve, the art hanger, struggles to mount the piece and Peter Lennon, the hairstylist for the magazine shoot, attempts to fix the wax Stephanie's hair, which was painstakingly applied one strand at a time but mussed on her long light over from Paris. The human Stephanie has the first opportunity of the hectic day to contemplate Cattelan's creation. As a uniformed maid uses a Dustbuster to vacuum the debris left from Steve's drilling, Seymour sits on an Oriental rug and studies the sinewy abs and chiseled nose before reaching a verdict: "The mouth is nothing like mine," she declares. "I have a bow."

And so a few weeks later Druet makes a returs visit from Paris to tweak the lips. Cattelan, meanwhile, is rethink his subject matter, musing about whether Seymour was the hunted—or the hunter: " Maybe we should have done a trophy with the head of Peter instead."