Peter Dinklage has earned global fame, not to mention Emmy and Golden Globe honors, playing the brilliant, conniving Tyrion Lannister on HBO's Game of Thrones. So it's a shock to walk into the Bass Museum of Art to find Dinklage's familiar face onscreen -- as a 17th-century courtier in drag.
Dinklage took the part -- as "Mari Barbola," a German dwarf made famous in Diego Velázquez's enigmatic opus Las Meninas, a scene from the Spanish court of King Philip IV in 1656 -- before he gained Hollywood stardom. It turned into one of the smartest casting decisions Eve Sussman made for 2004's 89 Seconds at Alcázar, a 12-minute film that's one of two works headlining her stunning new exhibit at the Bass, "Eve Sussman: Rufus Corporation."
"We shot the movie in 2003 before Peter's breakout role in The Station Agent," Sussman says. "At the time, Peter lived in the same neighborhood near my studio in Brooklyn, and I really wanted him for the role. So I left a note in his mailbox, and he called me after a couple of days."
The resulting movie, which reenvisions what transpired among the Spanish royal family, their servants, a dog, and the painter at their summer palace more than 350 years ago, marked a breakthrough for the artist at the 2004 Whitney Biennale. The film pointed to Sussman as a major contemporary artist to watch.
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Isolated in a darkened room near the entrance of the museum's second-floor galleries, Sussman's evocative film places viewers squarely in the moment when Velázquez painted his immortalized scene. It offers a sensational behind-the-curtain peek at the daily trappings of royal life, with opulent costumes, sinuous choreography, and a shadowy atmosphere.
Sussman's interpretation of the painting is remarkable and alone worth a visit to the museum. But the real box-office draw is her feature-length video-musical, The Rape of the Sabine Women, which reinterprets the founding of Rome with a sensory-jarring opulence that leaves an unforgettable impression on viewers. Originally shot for the big screen, the 80-minute movie has been transformed by Sussman and editor Kevin Messman into a five-part installation at the Bass.