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Chuck Close to Paint Zhang Huan's Giant Head All by Himself

Close at last night's Zhang Huan opening.Patrick McMullan


So it's, like, kind of a big deal to be painted by Chuck Close. One of the world's most famous artists spends four months immortalizing your mug on an eight-by-six-foot canvas, which is then viewed by just about everyone in the art world. But artist James Siena, who just got the treatment — again! — from Close, seems pretty laid back about it. "He's a friend of mine. He asked if he could paint a picture of me, I thought it would be rude to say no," he told us at last night's opening of Zhang Huan's "Blessings" at Pace Wildenstein. (In addition to the recently completed one, Siena was also the subject of a 2002 Close portrait.) "Of course I'm honored, but Chuck's a very down-to-earth fellow. I don't really think about how incredibly famous he is," he added. Well then.

Since Close was just across the same room, holding court near the entrance, we asked him whose ginormous head he'd be painting in the future. Zhang's, he said — they've agreed to paint each other and have already exchanged photos. It sounds like a perfect match, given the penchant both artists share for large canvases and painstaking methods: One of the show's main attractions is a 59-by-19-foot Chinese landscape Zhang made by tapping ash off the end of a paintbrush. A key difference, though, is that Zhang has a team of about 100 studio assistants. As for Close: "I'm a schmuck. I've been doing all my own work." —Darrell Hartman