Simon Dinnerstein on the power of sychronicity, the idea of the “masterpiece,” and art that defies strategy, taxonomy, and possibly even the artist.
I learned about Simon Dinnerstein through a bizarre series of sychronicities. First, I encountered an image of Dinnerstein’s epic Fulbright Triptych on the cover of a book of essays at Strand Book Store. Hailing from the eerily poetic world of Alice Neel, Alfred Leslie, Kerry James Marshall, or David Hockney, the image stopped me dead in my tracks. I was startled that I had not seen the painting before. I thumbed through the book to find that the collection of essays, written by a motley array of prominent writers, poets, psychologists, and actors, were all devoted precisely to the mystery and heft of this singular painting. I learned that the painting was housed in Penn State’s Palmer Collection and I vowed to go see it as soon as I could.
Before doing so, however, my second encounter with the work took place: a sighting of the painting on a poster at the home of a family friend, who, it turns out, had been a student of Simon Dinnerstein’s at the New School/Parsons in the ’70s. She had just gotten back in touch with Dinnerstein after learning from an article in the New York Times by Roberta Smith that the Triptych had made its way to the German Consulate, where it is—and will be—on view for the next two years.
My third encounter with the Triptych took place much sooner and more locally than I expected. It was just a few days later that I stood before its fourteen-foot glory, beside Dinnerstein, who had agreed to come walk me through his work. We looked together for hours at this paean to the tools, forms, and genres of art-making—a haunting homage to those objects, people, and ideas that inspire artists to make art.
As he lead me through the marks and methods of the Triptych that day, Dinnerstein spoke with a peculiar detachment, as if the work was so great, so interwoven and dense, that it existed entirely on its own, beyond him. This first encounter with Dinnerstein left me wanting to know more about this man whose creation seemed almost to eclipse his entire being—where does an artist go from here? At his Park Slope studio and home of over 40 years, I met the world of a curious and engaged mind, whose walls boasted sustained and varied lines of inquiry both stemming and diverging from those in the Triptych. As we spoke about the piece, I saw that Dinnerstein lacks nostalgia or complacency and has avoided succumbing to an art market-driven aesthetic in his work. I left with the sensation that I had just been in the presence of a bygone—or perhaps just rare—breed of artist, for whom the greatest accomplishment and potential of work is its ability not only to astound viewers, but to beguile and awe its own maker.