Dorothy Pearlstein, 1928 to 2018
Exhibitions a couple of years ago at Betty Cuningham Gallery and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh drew attention to the remarkable early work of Dorothy Cantor from the time when she, her future husband Philip Pearlstein and the young Warhol were classmates at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) and young artists in New York City. artcritical was saddened to learn of Dorothy’s passing earlier this month. We are very grateful to Desirée Alvarez for sharing her remarks from Dorothy’s funeral service. A memorial will be held at Betty Cuningham Gallery in due course.
I’m sure I speak for everyone in this room when I say that we’ve all been profoundly touched having Dorothy Pearlstein in our lives, and I’m honored to say a few words today. When I did some math this weekend I realized how lucky I am to have had lunch with Dorothy about a thousand times.
I got to know her in the best way possible: gradually over the many years while I was modeling for Philip. I got to know her as a mother who was always proudly telling me stories of her three wonderful children and later her adorable grandchildren. Working in her extraordinary home surrounded by the unique collection amassed by her and Philip I became intimately acquainted with her aesthetics and I got to know her as an artist. Like all great women, Dorothy was multi-faceted. She was as complex as her intense graphite drawings of subway platforms— which as realist, minimalist, and geometric compositions seemingly defied mysticism, yet for me were powerfully mystical.
Dorothy was a key female role model for me. She set the bar high not only for kindness, integrity and artistic achievement, but also for choosing a life partner with a meeting of minds— and for believing it would be possible to remain in love with that partner for an entire lifetime. She knew herself, possessed massive self-confidence and made great decisions. She advised on matters of art, love, aesthetics, real estate and of course, cooking. Her recipes always represented her generosity of spirit: “Add fistfuls of garlic and fresh rosemary. Put it in the oven, then add more fistfuls. With great ingredients, what could be bad?”
She and Philip sheltered my big dog and me on 9/11 when we fled a smoking Tribeca. I was traumatized by rollerblading in the shadow of the towers when the first plane struck. Afterward I worried about the potential for my dog to wag her splendid tail and swipe out a shelf of Greco-Roman antiquities. But that never happened and instead Bingo felt completely at home while Dorothy made us all meatloaf and transformed a nightmarish day into a warm evening in the comfort of friends.
She devoured books and occasionally we read the same ones at the same time. I’ve just finished George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo and wish we could discuss it. I love how much she loved Dickens and that she got me to read those intricate novels again. She had the gift of distillation and with her rapier wit she could describe an exhibition or a novel in a way that made it new. I often return to her description of how in Thomas Hardy novels the protagonist is always endlessly walking through the countryside which becomes every day more poignant as the difference between the 19th Century and now.
I’m lucky because we had the opportunity for long talks. On several occasions she told me she did exactly what she wanted with her life. Dorothy did it all. This is a woman who loved life, who seized it by the collar grinning. One of the most deeply engaged people I’ve ever met, she was that rare, possibly impossible thing— a truly content person with fistfuls of edge.
Plus, she taught me how to throw a stress-free dinner party for 30 people. “Make it grand,” she’d say. “Large platters on a long table and don’t worry about keeping things hot, just make it spectacular.” Well, Dorothy, you were spectacular and you made the party and we’ll never forget you.