Counterpoint: A blog on the Visual Arts No. 4

A Car Ride to the Palmer Museum of Art: Visiting The Fulbright Triptych


On December 9, Virginia Bonito, an art historian and former curator of the Seavest Collection, Marshall Price, curator at the National Academy Museum of Art, and Jhumpa Lahiri, a wise and gifted writer, accompanied me on the four and a half hour car ride to the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University. These three, along with about twenty other contributors including the composer George Crumb, the actors John Turturro and Alvin Epstein, and the art historian, Colin Eisler, will be taking part in a really exciting project. (Also participating in this upcoming publication are Anthony Doerr, author of The Shell Collector and the psychoanalyst/novelist Phillipe Grimbert, whose book, Memory, was recently made into the haunting film, A Secret.) 


For the last few months, Milkweed Editions, an independent publisher located in Minneapolis, has been putting together an anthology of writing based on my painting, The Fulbright Triptych.  In the book, this major, fourteen foot painting will be seen and written about from a variety of points of view: through the lens of an art historian, a novelist, a composer, a pianist, a critic, a psychologist, etc. Some essays that were previously published, including works by Guy Davenport, Rudolf Arnheim, John Russell, George Tooker, Tom Messer and Albert Boime will also be a part of this publication.


The car ride with these three bright, articulate individuals, along with the viewing of the painting at the museum, turned this visit into a long, intense, mysterious and richly rewarding day. We spent about three hours at the museum where the painting was set up in a special viewing room.  I spoke extemporaneously, answered questions and met some of the museum personnel, including the registrar Beverly Sutley and the museum director, Jan Muhlert, as well as two Palmer Museum curators, Joyce Robinson and Leo Mazow.


I had last seen the painting in 1999-2000 when it toured the country as part of a retrospective exhibition. The triptych is a grand and highly personal work and has many complicated themes weaving through it, among which are those of memory and memoir. This emotionally moving visit brought to mind many thoughts about the mystical adventure of the three years (1971-1974), it took to complete this painting. I thought of the journey that led to this picture and my journey since.


I have often reflected on the many aspects of a work of art that aren’t always clear to the artist while the image is being worked on. Curiously, sometimes, this becomes clearer the day after the painting is complete! Sometimes, it is the year after. And sometimes many years go by, in this case thirty or more, when some unexpected light shines on your effort.


Just a few days ago, reading a wonderful essay by Alfred Kazin about Herman Melville, I began to realize certain secret and surprising themes that are present in The Fulbright Triptych. How curious and wonderful!



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21 Responses to Counterpoint: A blog on the Visual Arts No. 4

  1. Margaret says:

    I don’t know if I forgot or never realized until now how beautiful the Triptych is.

  2. Margaret:

    I am so touched by what you wrote. It really means a great deal to me.
    It reminds me of some adage, which I hope I have right; it is from a Greek philosopher, “that you can’t step in the same river twice.” I guess the implication is that the river keeps changing and so do we.

    Happy new year,


  3. Arthur Bach says:

    I don’t remember ever seeing this work before, but its wonderful and
    also fascinating!


    The Fulbright Triptych was last shown in New York at Saint Peter’s Church in 1999, when it was part of a retrospective exhibition that toured the country. The phorograph shown gives some sense of the scale of the piece. With the frame and spacing, it is 14 feet in width. I have seen viewers look at the work for long periods of time, 15-30 minutes, or longer. You can actually read many of the clippings. I am very excited by the upcoming book with its many veryinteresting contributors and its multi-faceted points of view. Hopefully, an exhibit will take place in New York in 2011 which will present this painting and which will coincide with the publication. My website has a chapter on Reflections or comments that I have made on a number of the pictures. See:

  5. dear simon
    what a thrilling day and an experience to be treasured always. a memory you can always revisit with pleasure and joy and one that I am sure will reverberate in your mind and heart still opening more facets and revelations to you.
    a great work of art does just that. I always associated that experience to the viewer but to realize it can happen to the artist himself is amazing.
    this is a fascinating project with such notable and remarkable people.
    how rewarding that your triptych is giving birth . this too will bring new interpretations to you. I wonder if it will lead you to a new path in your painting joining the past and the contemporary simons in new visions and versions of expression. just musing about this is very exciting.
    to see your painting again had to bring forth so many emotions and thoughts. you were a time traveler indeed! the life and world views of simon today viewing the simon laid bare then. that is transcending.

    have so enjoyed your blogs. they reveal many insights , parallels and connections that add so much to my understanding.
    a very happy and special new year
    love always

  6. vivian bailes says:

    Hi Simon, Thank you for including me w/your distinguished recipients. And applause, applause — outstanding. I clearly remember your triptych; — and don’t I have a photo of it somewhere included in one of your publications? Kindest good wishes to Renee from Neil & Viv

  7. vivian bailes says:

    Simon, what does “Your comment is awaiting moderation” mean? I didn’t type that. Viv

  8. Enlargement says:

    I am amazed with it. It is a good thing for my research. Thanks

  9. Dear Mr. Dinnerstein:
    Many years ago, when I was teaching Simone, you gave me a beautiful gift: a book about you and your paintings. As a musician, if I would try to imagine a similar experience than the one you had, looking at and sharing the beauty of the Triptych with such a wonderful group of friends, I would have to be sitting, as part of the audience, at the Lyceum in Havana and listen to myself give my first recital there at age 10, obviously an impossibility! How great it must be for you to look at your work from the past at will, just like Simone will be able to listen to her recordings in the future! May you both enjoy such wonderful experiences for many, many years to come!

  10. Barbara Graff says:

    Hi Simon,

    Your journey to visit The Fulbright Tryptiych sounds to have been enriching. It pleases me that such a wonderful piece is being appreciated. I am always inspired by your work and
    wish you the best.


  11. Pindie Stephen says:

    Dear Simon,
    Interesting how Fates collide and today I intersected with you in this way…I was assembling a photo album for my Tante Alice, and included three photographs of the painting you did of me and my two sisters, which you aptly titled “Three Sisters, Rome” 31 years ago. It was then that I first saw the Fulbright Tryptych. among many others including the flower market – Campo di Fiori- one of my all time favorites. Thirty years ago is a long time, and much has transpired. Yet art continues to live, unchanged, a constant in all of our lives…

  12. Simon Dinnerstein says:

    Regarding Solomon Mikowsky and Havana: I have always been struck by your very great feeling for art. By this I mean the art that is at a point past the temporal, the glitz, the momentary, the popular, but something that is essential , abstract and durable. Your loyalty to this idea, in a curious way, echoes aspects of my own belief and, I am sure, provided for a wonderful influence for Simone and for your other students. So, thanks,
    and big time!

  13. Regarding Pindie Stephen: Some years back when Simone was very little,
    she read “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.” Shortly after, we had some guests and she ended up sleeping yupstairs in the living room in a room where there were a good number of portraits. She responded to the intensity and aura of these images by freaking out. Wilde really captures the spirit of art, the abstraction and timeless aspect ve. the temporalness of life.
    Perhaps that is why his characted, Dorian Gray, is so upending…..he stays young and beautiful and perfectly embodied by Hurd Hatfield and the painting of him ages and decays.

  14. Pindie: Perhaps I am not being clear. Something about your comment and the photo of you and your sisters made me think of Oscar Wilde.
    The art stays the same, transcends time and if it is really good transcends in some grand way. We age, the result of emotion, change, happenstance and gravity. Wilde reverses all this with his character, Dorian Gray. In the film of the book, the perfectly formed Hurd Hatfield, stays eerily perfect and the painting of Dorian ages and changes. It’s upending because it reverses the normal course of affairs and enters the surreal world. In the movie, the painting is by the artist Ivan Albright and it is quite strong. Not only is Dorian aging, but a whole host of other things are happening. I loved the photo of the three of you and as I have an active imagination, it made me think of Wilde’s treatise on the nature of art. You all look so good that probably the issue here is just in my head, but, anyway, I hope it is of interest.

  15. Your Reader says:

    Good work! Thank you very much!
    I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my site?
    Of course, I will add backlink?

    Regards, Timur I. Alhimenkov

  16. Simon Dinnerstein replies:

    It’s fine with me as long as there is a link back to my blog/website.

  17. Arianabado says:

    beautiiful blog merciiiiii

  18. kiciedeni says:

    Sweet blog. I never know what I am going to come across next. I think you should do more posting as you have some pretty intelligent stuff to say.

    I’ll be watching you

  19. Ulrich Littmann says:

    Hello Simon,
    was out of touch with the environment, see your blog just now – sorry for the delay. I can still spend hours to look at the Tryptich and discover new aspects related to your experience as a traveller and as an artist. Old Bill Fulbright would be delighted to see what his idea of educational exchange could produce! Yours is more of a reminder of a great American than many books that have been written about him. Thank you — and go on!!!

  20. Aquiles says:

    Congrats for your magnificent works.
    Please, who is the women in ” Flower Market, Rome”?
    Thans for your attention.

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