Summer went on to more conventional material, and at age 41 she is still going strong as a performer. Last night, in fact, Summer opened a three-day run at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
Coinciding with the Taj engagement was the opening Thursday evening of a Donna Summer exhibition at the Circle Art Gallery, on the Boardwalk at Park Place. Jack Solomon, chairman of Circle Fine Art Corp., which operates 35 galleries in this country and Canada and Japan, said 800 VIPs from around the country had been invited to the event.
And in many cases the tab - or, at least, a large portion of the tab - was picked up by Solomon's organization.
"When (a client) spends $100,000 or more a year with me, the least I can do is spend a few hundred dollars on that patron for something like this," Solomon noted.
Make no mistake about it, it helps to be a high-roller if you want to
purchase a piece of Summer's work. The asking price for some of the big canvases is $60,000.
On Thursday, a little more than an hour before the official opening of the exhibition at 6 p.m., Solomon pointed out one of the smaller pieces, a painting on paper titled Wise Woman, and said, "Someone bought this one earlier today - a man from Philadelphia. He paid $4,400 for it."
The least expensive of the Summer works on display here are the lithographs, which go for $800 unframed. In all, about 35 paintings, drawings and lithographs were chosen for the exhibition.
"We've had three shows for Donna prior to this one," Solomon said. ''Beverly Hills, San Diego and Bal Harbour, Fla., and just about everything on display was sold."
So how does Summer feel about the sums her work commands?
"I really don't know anything about the prices," she said before the start of the exhibition, sitting in the gallery with its wide-open view of the bustling Boardwalk. "I couldn't tell you how much a specific piece is worth. (The gallery) set the prices.
"If it were up to me, I would have trouble selling any of them. Jack will come to me and say that such-and-such painting has been sold. Well, sometimes I cry for a half-hour and then get over it. It's just that you work so hard on something and you love it and then it's gone. You never see it again."
She said, "I was always drawing, even as a child. It seems there was
always paper and canvas around. I was always serious about it, especially the last 15 years. It's just that I never showed any of it to anyone."
The turning point came a while back, when Summer planned a party on the ranch ("It's more like a farmette") she shares with her husband, record producer Bruce Sudano, and three daughters (ages 17, 8 and 7) just north of Los Angeles.
"It was an outdoors party, with a tent, and I had all of these paintings in the garage, which we were using for the bar," she said. "I moved the paintings into the house, and during the party, a friend of mine went into the house with me for some reason and asked, 'What are these?' I said, 'Oh, they're just pictures. I don't know what to do with all of them; maybe I'll give them to charity or something.' She said, 'You're not going to give these away; you're going to sell them.' That's how all of this began."
The friend, Ceil Kasha, an interior decorator, now represents Summer's art interests.
Summer became a born-again Christian in the '70s. "I came from a religious upbringing," she said. "It was a reaffirmation of my faith. It was that, I guess, or die. There was a seven-year period where I really went gung-ho: I was on prescription drugs, and some of those drugs doctors can prescribe for you are far worse than anything you can buy on the street. It just got to the point where I knew I had to straighten myself out or I would die."
Though her return to the church did not directly influence her development as an artist, she says, "it might have caused me to be more introspective."
The singer, born and reared in Boston, had no formal art training, but she was friendly with a number of artists while living in Europe, where "Love to Love You Baby" was recorded. This was especially so during a period in Austria.
"I never showed them any of my work," Summer said, "but I would watch what they did in the studio and say to myself, 'Hmmm, that's interesting; maybe I'll try that.' And then I'd go home and work on the technique."
Solomon said he is impressed by the brash colors and harsh images of Summer's work.
"I've been in this business for 26 years," he said. "I've been approached to handle any number of celebrity painters - no names, please - and I've turned them all down. In every case, the work was derivative - Picasso and others. But Donna has her own style. She's a very talented woman.
"Oh, some of the critics have felt it necessary to knock her. It's just that old thing, I suppose - not being able to accept the idea that a singer can also be a painter. But Donna's no Sunday painter."
And so, on Thursday night, the art lovers showed up at the Circle Gallery, where the Summer show will remain through Aug. 19. Hundreds of them. They nibbled on fine chocolates and they drank bubbly. And they purchased art.
Yesterday, Solomon estimated that the opening "generated $70,000 to $80,000 worth of business, which is great for the first night. And I have appointments later today on some deals that are pending."
Solomon, it would seem, was working hard for the money.