Everbody Knows . . . Elizabeth Murray premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival's closing weekend. Even as the artist Elizabeth Murray was making news, installing the major retrospective of her extraordinary sculptural paintings at MoMA in 2005, one of 4 women so respectfully displayed, room after room on MoMA's 6th floor galleries, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Film production designer Kristi Zea was already making a documentary about her and her prolific career. Unlike writer Nora Ephron, say, who made the decision to keep her illness under wraps, Murray was open about the disease that she would fight valiantly working at her studio. And now Zea had a theme for her documentary: "The tone of the movie changed. Suddenly we had a story we did not know we had. What I found out," said Kristi Zea just before the film's premiere screening at the Whitney Museum, part of the Tribeca Film Festival, "was how much people loved her. She was ambitious, didn't take no for an answer. 'Everybody knows' was the name of her last painting. That has so many connotations: everybody knows that I am sick, everybody knows me but they don't."
In fact, Elizabeth Murray is not as well known as many of her contemporaries: Eric Fishl, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, a point that is perplexing to Zea, and a feminist issue, begging the question, "how does a woman have a household and passion for creative artistic expression that she needs to do while she is juggling all these things. Murray did not stop up until the end." She met Murray about 25 years ago when Zea was planning a Mormon opera with JoAnne Akalaitis. They went to Utah for research and tacked on a hiking trip. Akalaitis invited Elizabeth Murray to join them. Zea said, "We would dish and download," of their excursions into Bryce Canyon and other locations. "We were working at art, and had kids and husbands." Inspired by Jonathan Demme's Neil Young documentary, Heart of Gold, and Martin Scorsese's documentary, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Zea asked Murray if she could do a piece on her, and was initially funded by The Warhol Foundation giving her $75,000. Murray's husband, poet Bob Holman contributed archival material. Joel Shapiro, Chuck Close, and Richard Serra gave art for an auction to help fund this film. James L. Brooks sent money. Still, Zea juggled: "I have a very good career as a production designer and I would go off and do a movie and then come back to do this. The movie became a labor of love."
The sold-out Whitney Museum opening would be a big deal, with art world luminaries expected, including the Guerilla Girls, incognito. But says Zea, I want everyone to see this movie: "Women have to try to get over hurdles. Women have to persevere. I dedicated this film to my daughter. The message of the film: You are on the planet for a good reason."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.