Cornelius' crazy brother is standing in front of my gallery
screaming at his girlfriend. It's like watching the genetically
mutated, white-trash versions of myself and Cornelius.--a big blonde
girl, a sandy-haired guy, only bloated, drug-addled, miserable and
graceless. The girlfriend nearly had a show at my gallery last year.
She makes these amazing fantasy theme dolls; she takes old Barbies
and other trashed goopy commercial dolls, strips them, paints them,
dresses them, adds wings or model horse bodies to make mythical
creatures out of them, turns them into little copies of celebrities
or Pocohantas or the Spirit of Autumn or whatever. She came shyly
into the gallery, the first month it was open, and showed me some
pictures. She'd never had an art show, but had made a mint selling
her creations on eBay.
It was quite a risk for me to say "yes, you can have a show," but
wow, they were really neat. They worked because they were completely
naive and completely sincere. "This might be considered almost 'folk
art,'" I said, in my best impersonation of Sophisticated Gallerist. I
asked her if she could show in October, but she said no, that wasn't
enough time. I got some images on disk from her and started making
her a web page.
She wasn't, then, the official girlfriend of Cornelius' crazy
brother. "Omen III--The Sibling," as C. calls him, is officially
married to somebody else, with whom he was living across the street,
along with their fifteen-year-old son. C. has been The Omen's keeper
for the last fifteen years. The Omen has tried to kill him more than
once, with a baseball bat, in the midst of crack fits. He has wrecked
C.'s car, threatened his tenants, tried to get a crooked cop friend
to set him up for assault, broken into his bedroom in the dead of
night and forced him to flee half-naked through the alley in
below-freezing weather. He has been beaten to within an inch of his
life by drug lords to whom he owes money. He vents his temper with a
crowbar on parked cars. He is one of the primary reasons C. was
hospitalized a few years ago, with incipient heart failure.
Sometime round about last September, The Omen's son caught The Omen
screwing the Doll Girl in the park, in broad daylight, under some
bushes. Much mayhem and legal hoopla ensued. Tangled up in the hoopla
were a number of property transactions, having to do with relatives
who died inestate, or with estates which then had to be questioned
because a primary beneficiary was having crack fits and beating up
tenants. It was all too complicated and too subtle to be explained
here. The only thing that amazed me was "why in the world would
ANYBODY want to screw The Omen anywhere, let alone in broad daylight
in the park?"
I had been in occasional contact with the Doll Girl, trying to
arrange a date for her show. I had the idea that she should show with
another artist, preferably one with a standard "art world" resume, in
order to boost her credentials by association, and to ensure a decent
turnout at the opening. I was getting a crash course in just how hard
it is to run a gallery in New York City, even rent-free in the middle
of the trendiest art neighborhood going. Critical, financial, and
social "success" really IS based on Who You Know, and I din't know
nobody. It is a bad idea to show artists from Out of Town, no matter
how stunning their work, if you haven't already got a mailing list of
over 1,000 loyal patrons; people come to the opening, and then
possibly buy art, and have critics possibly write about it, only if
they Know Somebody. Meanwhile, printing cards, paying for light and
heat and phone and booze at the opening, not to mention rent and
groceries, gets expensive.
In other words, young artists, if a gallery gets interested in you,
treat them nicely.
Anyway, about mid-October, as I was hanging our third major show at
midnight, along with the current artist, the previous artist (a real
doll, that girl) and C., my love, I got an email from the Doll Girl.
She wanted to know if I could guarantee the date of her show, since
she was about to start work on it.
Now, to those of you not involved in the Art World, this may seem
like a simple, innocent question, even a reasonable one. But those of
you not involved in the Art World have, probably, then, never been an
art student; you have never asked a gallery for a show; you have
never entered juryings, applied for scholarships, grants,
residencies, or teaching jobs. You have never had the precious issue
of your soul turned down and down and down until you were ready to
dig a twelve-foot trench under the city, burrow into it, curl up at
the bottom and stay there till your bones have turned to amethyst.
You do not know the Myth, which is that Real Artists Make Art, even
if the show is not guaranteed, even if the show never happens in your
lifetime, even if you never get paid, ha! even if you go hundreds of
thousands of millions in debt to finance your Art.
And here, here! is an unknown, naive, uneducated Folk Artist with the
NERVE to insist that I guarantee her a date before she sets brush to
Barbie. Steam gushed forth from my aural cavities. I slammed the
"Reply" button so hard the building shook in its foundations; my
fingers flew over the keys like sharks dismembering a goat. C. and
the artists noticed something was going on. "Whoa, Steph," they said.
" Disconnect the computer and slowly back away from the keyboard. Do
nothing at this time." As C. pointed out, she's already screwing The
Omen. It would be excessively, even suicidally unwise to give her a
show at this point, even if she lined 75 exotic Barbies up at the
front door. She has simply given me an ironclad excuse to dump her,
and seem kind.
After about 48 hours, I wrote the Doll Girl a kind and apologetic
letter. Circumstances beyond my control, having to do with the
curator for the April show and her dealer, rendered me unable to fix
any dates at all at this moment; it would be unfair of me to ask her
to start work at this point. If she happened to produce any work she
was particularly proud of, I'd love to take a look at it. I think she
is very gifted, and am very sorry. Case closed.
All these many months later, I see the Doll Girl passing my door.
During the time that The Omen was trying to work things out with his
wife, she looked tearful and despairing. It was, still, difficult to
believe that anybody could have genuine yearnings for The Omen on any
level, but so it seemed to be. Then The Omen finally left his wife,
to the tune of much 5 AM screaming and dumping of furniture out
windows. He and the Doll Girl moved in together and commenced
throwing one continuous crack and Bacardi party in the basement,
along with all the small-time crooks in the neighborhood. So perhaps
they are happy.
I still expect to come across the Doll Girl's name in the police
blotter section of The Post one of these days. I could write an elegy
about romance and trampled innocence and Barbie dolls, but I won't.
There's just no accounting for tastes.