Tom Wolfe -Back to Blood,2012

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Tom Wolfe – Back to Blood, 20

Chapter 10: The Super Bowl of the Art World.

It was December, which in Miami Beach had only the most boring meteorological significance. Imagine a picture book with the same photograph on every page . . . every page . . . high noon beneath a flawless, cloudless bright blue sky . . . on every page . . . a tropical gun that turns those rare old birds, pedestrians, into stumpy, abstract black shadows on the sidewalk . . . on every page . . . unending views of the Atlantic Ocean, unending meaning that every couple of blocks, if you squint at a certain angle between the gleaming pinkish butter-colored condominium towers that wall off the shining sea from clueless gawkers who come to Miami Beach thinking they can just drive down to the shore and see the beaches and the indolent recliner & umbrella people and the lapping waves and the ocean sparkling and glistening and stretching out to the horizon in a perfect 180-degree arc . . . if you squint just right, every couple of blocks you can get a skinny, thin-as-a-ballpoint-refill, vertical glimpse of the ocean—blip—and it’s gone . . . on every page . . . glimpse—blip—and it’s gone . . . on every page . . . on every page…

However, at high noon, or 11:45 a.m., to be exact, on this particular December day, Magdalena and Norman were indoors . . . in the distinguished, if itching-scratching, company of Maurice Fleischmann, along with Marilynn Carr, his “A.A.,” as he called her… short for art adviser. In fact, he had begun using that as her nickname . . . “Hey, A.A., come take a look at this” . . . or whatever. With dignity, insofar as that was possible, the four of them sought to keep their place in a line, more or less, less a line, in fact, and more like a scrimmage at an Iranian airline counter. Two hundred or so restless souls, most of them middle-aged men, eleven of whom had been pointed out to Magdalena as billionaires—billionaires—twelve, if you counted Maurice himself, were squirming like maggots over the prospect of what lay on the other side of an inch—thick glass wall just inside a small portal, Entrance D of the Miami Convention Center. The convention center took up an entire city block on Miami. Beach. An ordinary person could walk past Entrance D every day for years and never be conscious of its existence. That was the whole point. Ordinary people didn’t know and musn’t know that billionaires and countless nine—digit millionaires were in there squirming like maggots . . . fifteen minutes before Miami Art Basel’s moment of money and male combat. They all had an urge.

The maggots! . . . Once, when she was six or seven, Magdalena had come upon a little dead dog, a mutt, on a sidewalk in Hialeah. A regular hive of bugs was burrowing into a big gash in the dog’s haunch—only these weren’t exactly bugs. They looked more like worms, short, soft, deathly pale worms; and they were not in anything so orderly as a hive. They were a wriggling, slithering, writhing, squiggling, raveling, wrestling swarm of maggots rooting over and under one another in a heedless, literally headless, frenzy to get at the dead meat. She learned later that they were decephalized larvae. They had no heads. The frenzy was all they had. They didn’t have five senses, they had one, the urge, and the urge was all they felt. They were utterly blind.

Just take a look at them! . . . the billionaires! They look like shoppers mobbed outside Macy’s at midnight for the 40-percent-off After Christmas Sale. No, they don’t look that good. They look older and grubbier and more washed out…the whole bunch are americanos, after all. They’re wearing prewashed baggy-in-the-seat jeans, too-big T-shirts, too-big polo shirts hanging out at the bottom to make room for their bellies, too-tight khakis, ug-lee rumpled woolen ankle—high socks of rubber- mat black, paint—job green, and slop—mop maroon . . . and sneakers. Magdalena had never seen this many old men—practically all were middle-aged or older—wearing sneakers. Just look—there and there and over there—not just sneakers but real basketball shoes. And for what? They probably think all these teen togs make them look younger. Are they kidding? They just make their slumping backs and sloping shoulders and fat-sloppy bellies . . . and scoliotic spines and slanted—forward necks and low-slung jowls and stringy wattles . . . more obvious.

To tell the truth, Magdalena didn’t particularly care about all that. She thought it was funny. Mainly, she was envious of A.A. This americana was pretty and young and, it almost went without saying, blond. Her clothes were sophisticated yet very simple . . . and very sexy. . . a perfectly plain, sensible, businesslike sleeveless black dress . . . but short . . . ended a foot above her knees and showed plenty of her fine fair thighs . . . made it seem like you were looking at all of her line fair body. Oh, Magdalena didn’t doubt for a second that she was sexier than this girl, had better breasts, better lips, better hair . . . long, full, lustrous dark hair as opposed to this americana’s sexless blond bob, copied from that English girl—what was her name?—Posh Spice . . . She just wished she had worn a minidress, too, to show off her bare legs. . . as opposed to these slim white pants that mainly showed off the deep cleft of her perfect little butt. But this “A.A.” girl had something else, too. She was in the know. Advising rich people, like Fleischmann, about what very expensive art to buy was her business, and she knew all about this “fair.” If somebody called it “Miami Art Basel,” thinking that was the full name, she would inform him in some mostly polite way that it was of officially Art Basel Miami Beach . . . and that those in the know didn’t call it “Miami Art Basel” for short. No, they called it “Miami Basel.” She could fire off sixty in the know cracks a minute.

At this very moment, A.A. was saying, “So I ask her‚ I’îI ask her what she’s interested in, and she says to me, “I’m looking for something cutting-edge . . . like a Cy Twombly. “I’m thinking, ‘A Cy Twombly?’ Cy Twombly was cutting-edge in the nineteen fifties! He died a couple of years ago, I think it was, and most of his contemporaries are gone or on the way. You’e not cutting-edge if your whole generation is dead or dying. You may be great. You may be iconic, the way Cy Twombly is, but you’re not cutting-edge.”

She didn’t address any of this to Magdalena. She never looked at her. Why waste attention, much less words, on some little nobody who probably didn’t know anything anyway? The worst part of it was that she was right. Magdalena had never heard of Cy Twombly. She didn’t know what cutting-edge meant, either, although she could sort of guess from the way A.A. used it. And what did iconic mean? She hadn’t the faintest idea. She bet Norman didn’t know, either, didn’t understand the first thing Miss All-Business sexy A.A. had just said, but Norman created the sort of presence that made people think he knew everything about anything anybody had to say.

Iconic was a word that was beginning to pop up all around them, now that there were just minutes to go before the magic hour, noon. The maggots were rooting amongst one another more anxiously.

Somewhere very nearby, a man with a high voice was saying, “Okay, maybe it isn’t iconic Giacometti, but it’s great Giacometti all the same, but no-o-o-o—” Magdalena recognized that voice. A hedge fund billionaire from Greenwich?—Stamford?— someplace in Connecticut, anyway. She remembered him from the Besjet party two nights ago.

And some woman was saying, “Koons’d die at auction right now!”

“—Hirst, if you ask me. He’s high as a dead fish after fifteen minutes in the sun.”

“—what you just said? Prince is the one who’s tanked.”

“—the fish that’s up there at Stevie’s, rotting its forty-million-dollar guts out?”

“—iconic, my ass.”

“—svear, ‘de skilt’ vas vot she said!” (“—swear, deskilled’ was what she said.”) Magdalena knew that voice very well, from last night at the dinner party Michael du Glasse and his wile, Caroline Peyton-Soames, gave at Casa Tua. She even remembered his name, Heinrich von Hasse. He had made billions manufacturing . . . something about industrial robots? . . . was that what they said? Whatever else he did, he had spent so many millions buying art at Art Basel in Switzerland six months ago, people were talking about him at practically every party she and Norman and Maurice had been to.

“—about to see it! A measles outbreak, baby!”

“—and no time to kick the tires!”

“See it—like it—buy it! That’s all you—”

“Art Basel in Basel?” That was A.A. piping up again. “Have you ever been to Basel? The only place worse is Helsinki. There’s no place to eat! The food is not anywhere near as good as the food here. The fish tastes like it arrived in the backseat of a Honda, and the price—”

“—keep his hands off my adviser, for Christsake.”

“—think you’ve got a fifteen-minute reserve, but five minutes later—”

“—the price is twice what it is here. And Basel’s so~called historic hotels? I’ll tell you what’s historic-—the basins in the bathrooms! Aaaagh! They’re that old kind. You know what I mean? You could have somebody scrub them day and night for a week, and they’d still look gray like somebody’s old bedridden grandmother with bad breath. No shelf space and these old gray metal cups screwed into the wall they expect you to put your toothbrush in? You just—”

“—I’m what?”

“—what I said. You’re rude. Gimme your mother’s phone number! I’m gonna tell her on you!”

“Whattaya gonna do—get Putin to slip an isotope into my cappuccino?”

As covertly as possible, Fleischmann lowered his hand to the crotch of his pants and tried to scratch the itch of his herpes pustules. He could never do it covertly enough to fool Magdalena, however. Every two minutes at least, Fleischmann shot one of his sixty-three-year-old looks at her . . . pregnant with meaning . . . and lust. Norman’s diagnosis was that they were one and the same. The meaning was … lust. The very sight of a gorgeous girl like her was live pornography for a porn addict like Fleischmann . . . better than a strip club. Gross as they might be, Magdalena loved those looks. Those pregnant lustful looks she commanded from every sort of man—she loved it, loved it, loved it. First they looked at her face—Norman said her knowing lips insinuated ecstasy, even when she didn’t have the faintest smile. Then they looked at her breasts—her somehow perfect breasts. She was aware of it all the time! Then she would see them searching her crotch. . . expecting to find what, in God’s name?

All the old men in this wriggling infestation of maggots . . . if she cared to walk up and down and cock her hips before them . . . their riches . . . they’d melt! They dreamed of depositing them into . . . her.

It was as if one of those storybook fairies children love so much had waved her wand over Miami . . . and—Wanderflash!—turned it into Miami Basel . . . The spell lasted no more than one week, one magical week every December…when the Miami Basel “art fair” went up in the Miami Convention Center . . . and swells from all over the United States, England, Europe, Japan, even Malaysia, even China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, even South Africa, todo el mundo, came down from the sky in swarms of private planes . . . to buy expensive contemporary art . . . or to see the swells buying it . . . to immerse themselves in their mental atmosphere of art and money . . . to breathe the same air they did . . . in short, to be where things are happening . . . until the fairy waived her wand again a week later and—Wanderflash!—they disappeared . . . the art from all over the world, the private planes from all over the world, the swell people who had descended from the sky from all over the world, and—poof!—every trace of sophistication and worldliness was gone.

At this very moment, however, all these creatures remained under the fairy’s spell.

Miami Basel wouldn’t open to the public until the day after tomorrow . . . but to those in the know, those on the inside, Miami Basel had already been a riot of cocktail receptions, dinner parties, after-parties, covert cocaine huddles, inflamed catting around for going-on three days. Almost anywhere they were likely to enjoy a nice little status boost from the presence of celebrities—movie, music, TV, fashion, even sports celebrities—who knew nothing about art and didn’t have time to care. All they wanted was to be . . . where things were happening. For them and for the insiders, Miami Basel would be over the moment the first foot of the first clueless member of the general public touched the premises.

Magdalena would have remained clueless herself without Maurice Fleischmann. She had never even heard of Miami Basel until Maurice invited her, along with Norman, to the fair . . . at Norman’s prodding. Socializing with a patient was very much frowned upon in psychiatric practice. The psychiatrist’s effectiveness depended in no small part upon his assuming a godly stance far above the patient’s place in the world, no matter what it might be. The patient must be dependent upon his paid god, not the other way around. But Norman had Maurice mesmerized. He thought his “recovery” from his “disease” depended entirely upon Norman, in spite of the fact—or maybe because of the fact—that Norman kept telling him that he was not suffering from a disease but a weakness. For his part, Maurice felt rather special taking Norman around, because Norman was on television a lot and was seen by so many people in Miami as a celebrity. Nobody would suspect that Fleischmann was Norman’s patient. They were two well-known men who traveled in the same circles, at the same altitude. What could be remarkable about that?

Every day Fleischmann and his driver, a little Ecuadorian named Felipe, had picked up Norman and Magdalena from the Lincoln Suites, after Norman’s last appointment, in a big black Escalade SUV with dark-tinted windows. The first stop, the first day, was the insiders’ opening event—a cocktail party known as Toffs at Twilight. A man named Roy Duroy staged that party every year at the hotel he owned, The Random, on Collins Avenue, not all that far south of the Lincoln Suites. The Random was a typical hotel of the much-touted South Beach Retro boom. A clever developer like Duroy would buy a small, crabbed hotel, eighty years old or more usually, give it a lick of paint and some in-room computer outlets, change the name from the Lido or the Surfside to something hip and Hip like The Random, and pronounce it an Art Deco architectural gem. Now you had a small, crabbed gem. The rear of the property was its saving grace. It Ooverlooked an inlet from the ocean. Duroy had put a lot of big umbrellas with magenta, white, and apple-green stripes out there. Very colorful, these umbrellas, and Toffs at Twilight was going strong when Maurice, Norman, and Magdalen arrived. A hundred, two hundred Miami Basel insiders were crammed around tables under the umbrellas, drinking, or milling about between the umbrellas, drinking. Everybody was drinking and kicking up a “noisy surf of big talk and haw haw haw haw haws! and scream scream scream screams!

What bowled Magdalena over was the stir Maurice’s very presence created. Roy Duroy himself immediately rushed up and gave him a big bear hug. His flattery fluttered down on Maurice like rose petals. A big real estate developer named Burt Thornton—even Magdalena had seen him on TV and in the newspapers—rushed over and all but licked Maurice’s alligator-hide moccasins. So many people came rushing over to Maurice, he stood there for an hour without moving six inches from where he first came upon the colorful umbrella-scape. Magdalena had always known that Maurice was a billionaire who had “influence.” Nevertheless, what she had never been able to get out of her mind was Norman’s photograph of Maurice’s crotch rotting with herpes pustules. But now, at Toffs at Twilight, she was looking at a Maurice el Grande.

Meantime, Norman was sulking a bit. Nobody had recognized him so far. He had even given up his laughterrrahHAHockhock hock strategy for attracting attention. He groused to Magdalena that all Roy Duroy wanted was Maurice’s backing for some out-to-lunch dream of turning The Random into a chain operation, and Burt Thornton just wanted Maurice to intervene to keep North Tryon Street Global from foreclosing on him for an enormous loan for a development that hadn’t panned out.

The three of them got back into the big black Escalade and headed off to the High Hotel, also in South Beach, where Besjet, which leased private planes to corporations and the mighty rich, was having a cocktail reception . . . even louder this time, the roaring surf. . .the big talk, the haw haw haw haws! the shriek shriek shriek shrieks! … Magdalena was stunned. Across the room she spotted two movie stars, Leon Decapito and Kanyu Reade. No question about it! Leon Decapito and Kanyu Reade!—in the flesh! ::::::Leon Decapito and Kanyu Reade . . . and me . . . we’re guests at the same cocktail party.:::::: . . . But not even stars like them could have commanded more attention than Besjet gave Maurice. The president of Besjet rushed over to him, flashing every tooth he could squeeze into his grin. When they shook hands, the president clasped his left hand over their mingled fingers, as if sealing a vow. Five times he must have told Maurice that tomorrow the 170th Besjet flight heading specifically. to Miami Basel would be landing. He no doubt knew Maurice had his own plane. He just wanted him to have the word, because in Miami, among all the nobs who could afford private flights, Maurice’s seemed to be the word. Norman was growing positively glum. They went from the Besjet party to a swell, expensive restaurant called Casa Tua for a big dinner given by Status, the new magazine that had become very hot by ranking people in every area of life you could imagine.

No step over a threshold and through a door had ever given Magdalena such a status boost before…and no sooner did she step into the dining room, amid a hundred or more people, than she spotted the celebrated faces of Tara Heccuba Barker! . . . Luna Thermal! . . . Rad Packman! . . . She couldn’t get over it. She was breathing the same air they were! But the Status people couldn’t have made a bigger to-do over any of them than they did over Maurice. In his remarks, the editor in chief of Status mentioned Maurice twice . . .

Finally, after dinner, Norman got a break. A big moonfaced woman recognized him and brought over a couple of others, and soon Norman was the star of a big conversation cluster eager to hear the eminent Dr. Lewis go on about pornnnahhHAHAHock hock hock addiction. In no time eight or nine people were gathered around him.

Magdalena, standing next to Maurice, found herself engulfed, by default, in a conversation cluster consisting of Maurice and three of his courtiers, all middle-aged men. The only one Magdalena recognized was Burt Thornton, who popped up on TV a lot . . . some real estate fiasco . . . or something like that . . . The other two were Somebody Herman and Somebody Kershner. Maurice was holding forth on the pitfalls of “pyramided mortgage payments,” which she gathered was Mr. Thornton’s problem. She had never felt more out of place. She would have been afraid to utter a peep, even if she had known what on earth they were talking about. But she was even more afraid of leaving this cluster and trying her luck in a room full of old people now on their feet and getting ready to depart for one what’s happening après-party party or another. A group of them stopped when they reached the Maurice Fleischmann cluster, and some man stepped up—”Maurice!”—and embraced him in the manly version of women’s air kisses among social equals. They separated, and ::::::Dios mio! I’ve never seen such a gorgeous man in my life!:::::: Maurice began some rapid introductions. “Sergei, this is Burt Thornton . . . Burt, this is Sergei Korolyov.”

“Ees my pleasure, Mr. Zornton.”

Oh, it’s my honor!” said Burt Thornton.

Sergei Korolyov’s European accent—was it Russian?—only made him more gorgeous to Magdalena. He looked young, at least for this crowd—midthirties? He was as tall as a girl could ever hope for, and built. Men didn’t come any handsomer, either. A square jaw, amazing blue eyes—and his hair was a thick light brown with some blond streaks, combed back in long waves. It was romantic. And so charming, the way he smiled and the tone of his voice as he greeted “Mr. Zornton” and made those three words, “Ees my pleasure,” sound as if he actually meant it. Just before Maurice introduced him to Mr. Herman ::::::he glanced at me—and it didn’t just happen, either!:::::: Just as he was introduced to Mr. Kershner ::::::he did it again! Now I know he means it!::::::

Maurice must have noticed it, too, because he said, “Oh, and Sergei, this is Magdalena Otero.” The gorgeous man turned to Magdalena. He smiled the same politely charming smile. He reached out as if to shake hands—and bowed and lifted her hand and air-kissed the back of it and said, “Miss Otero.” But when he stood up, he had added a slight insinuation to the smile, and he poured his eyes into hers for far too long—then left with his party. ::::::;¡Dios mio, mio, mio!::::::

Magdalena whispered to Maurice, “Who is that?”

Maurice chuckled. “Someone who’d like to make friends with you, I gather.” Then he filled her in.

Norman was happy, too. Now at last they realized who he was. What a lift! Such a lift that Norman was ready to roll to an after-party given by something called the Museum of the Instant, in the Design District, where a performance artist named Heidi Schlossel would be performing a piece of art called De-fucked. Everybody at the Status dinner was talking about it. Magdalena had never heard of the Museum of the Instant, the Design District, performance art, or performance artists, let alone one named Heidi Schlossel. Norman was only marginally better informed; he had heard of the Design District, although he didn’t know where it was. Maurice, now a certified big shot at Miami Basel, was dying to go.

Magdalena took Norman aside. “This performance art thing—it’s called De-fucked. We don’t know what it is. Do you eally want to risk taking”—she pointed behind her toward Maurice—”to something like that?”

“It’s a museum,” said Norman. “How bad could it be?‚”

Back into the Escalade . . . and off to the Design District, which seemed to be in an area of abandoned warehouses and small factories. The Instant Museum was a mess . . . and too small for all the Miami Basel insiders who flocked there . . . The only halfway-decent-sized gallery in the place had hundreds of worn-out black tires piled up against one wall. A jacklegged, unpainted wooden stanchion bore a sign:

NATIVE TRASH OF THE DAY

Collection of the Instant Museum

A recorded rhythm track boomed out over a speaker system, BOOMchilla BOOMchilla BOOMchilla BOOMchilla . . . From behind a mound of filthy black tires steps a tall figure in black. She has chalky white skin . . . and long black hair that comes cascading down upon the puffed and pleated shoulders of the academic robe she has on, the kind you graduate in. But this one is voluminous. It sweeps down to the floor. She isn’t smiling.

She stands there motionless, without a peep, for about thirty seconds. Presumably, this is Heidi Schlossel.

She brings her hands to her neck and undoes some sort of clasp. The robe falls from her shoulders suddenly, completely, clump. It must have weighed a ton.

Now she stood stark naked in front of a big puddle of heavy black cloth…rigid, erect. Her face was a blank…She looked like one of the undead in a horror movie . . . without a stitch on.

Magdalena whispered to Norman, “Let’s leave—now!” She nodded toward Maurice. Norman just shook his head . . . No.

The stark naked woman appeared to be fifteen years too old and fifteen pounds too heavy to play this role, whatever it was. She began speaking in the dead voice of the undead. “Men have fucked me . . . they have fucked me, fucked me, fucked me over, overfucked me—” . . . on and on with this I Was a Fucking Zombie poem—until all at once she inserted a thumb and two fingers into her vagina and pulled out a length of sausage and came alive, as it were, and cried out, “De-fucked!—and out came another sausage linked to the first—”De-fucked!”—and another and another—”De-fucked!” and “De-fucked!” and “De-fucked!” and “De-fucked!” Magdalena couldn’t believe how many link sausages the woman had managed to stuff inside her vaginal cavity!

Maurice had his hand clasped over his crotch. But instead of stroking it with his hand, he was rocking his body back and forth beneath his hand . . . so as not to be detected.

Magdalena nudged Norman and whispered on the loud side, “Maurice!” Norman ignored her. His eyes were fixed on Ms. Schlossel. So this time Magdalena didn’t bother hiding it behind a whisper. “Norman! Look at Maurice!”

“Norman glowered at her . . . but did look at Maurice. He just stared at first . . . calculating . . . calculating . . . then he let out a deep, self-denying sigh and put his arm around Maurice’s shoulders . . . tenderly . . . and leaned close to him and said . . . in a voice you would use on a child . . . “We have to go now, Maurice.”

Like an obedient child who knows he has disappointed his parents, Maurice let himself be led out of the Museum of the Instant.

Maurice was silent . . . and penitent . . . but Norman acted cross. He kept shaking his head from side to side, without looking at either one of them.

“What’s wrong, Norman?” said Magdalena.

“There’s supposed to be a great after-party at some gallery near here, the Linger, in Wynwood, wherever that is.” He kept shaking his head. “But I guess that’s out.”

Later on, Magdalena asked around and was told that the Linger, a large gallery, wanted to show its “private collection” of photorealistic pornographic paintings, whatever photorealistic meant, and sculptures of homosexual orgies.

Why was there so much pornography in this so-called cutting-edge art? Magdalena wondered. For what earthly reason? How in God’s name did they justify it? . . . And just who was more upset about not being able to see it all, the patient . . . or the doctor?

But by last night it was as if nothing had happened. Here were the three of them, Maurice, Norman, and herself, plunging into another round of parties and receptions before dinner … and dinner was really something last night. Michael du Glasse and his wife, Caroline Peyton-Soames, were the hosts. Michael du Glasse and Caroline Peyton-Soames! . . . the most glamorous couple in Hollywood, if you asked Magdalena . . . a dinner for a hundred people at the Ritz-Carlton . . . and Magdalena Otero, lately of Hialeah, was their guest . . . and for one sublime and unforgettable moment she had touched their right hands with hers.

In five minutes, presumably, a pair of doors in the glass wall would open, and these old men, these old maggots, would have first crack at the treasures that lay on the other side . . . Miami Basel! . . . For two hours these maggots, and these alone, would have the exclusive run of the whole place . . . whatever in the name of God “the whole place” was . . .

“—fuck off? You fuck off, you fat—”

“AhhggghHAHAHHHHock hock hock hockdjou see that big ox trying to slip between those two people? Got stuck between themmmmaaagghHAHHHHock hock hock hock! Couldn’t get his belly throughahhHock hock hock!

Maurice Fleischmann looked at Norman blankly. Then he looked around among his fellow squirming maggots to figure out what had made Norman eruptttock hock hock like that. He couldn’t. He was nonplussed. But Magdalena now understood. Norman cackled when he felt insecure, especially in the presence of people who made him feel defensive or inferior—Fleischmann, for one. It was a way of taking over from them in conversation. Anybody, even a real swell like Fleischmann, had to have a heart of stone not to manufacture a smile and a few chuckles and play along with a bighearted guy who’s being swept away, convulsed, in paralyzed by laughter over . . . God knows what. Why even bother with Fleischmann’s conversation—when he already controlled Fleischmann’s poor porn-mad mind? Why?—it all dawned on Magdalena. It was very important to Norman to keep his boat at a place like the Fisher Island Marina—but he didn’t own any property there. Maurice Fleischmann made it happen. Or Norman’s presence amidst the most important VIPs of all the VIPs of Miami Basel, the richest of the rich, the likeliest of the likely big spenders, the deepest of the plungers—all of them slithering over and underneath one another to get first crack at the wonders of ninety thousand square feet of art for sale. What was Norman doing here? Maurice Fleischmann made it happen.

Some sort of dustup at the very head of the line . . . the big ox yakking away, angrily, by the looks of him . . . a stack of tires—of fat—forming on the back of his neck every time his chin bobs up. ::::::Look at what he’s wearing! .. . an ordinary white T-shirt, the kind that’s meant to be underwear. Just look at him! . . .it’s stretched over his swollen belly. . . making him look like one of those big plastic gym balls . . . it’s hanging outside his jeans, a really gross pair of Big Boy BodiBilt jeans.::::::

Magdalena tapped Norman on the arm. “Norman—”

“Yeah, that’s him,” said Norman. “But wait a minute . . . This guy is too muuuuchHahhhHAHAHAHock hock hock!

By the time he got to his cackle, Magdalena couldn’t help but notice, he was no longer aiming his little performance in her direction, but Fleischman’s.

“A second ago the guy was trying to crash the line four or five places from the front . . . and nowwwahHHHHock hock hock he is the front!” . . .

Fleischmann looks put out. He doesn‚’t even feign a smile over Norman’s cackle. He’s worried. He sidles over and takes a look.

“Hey, A.A.,” says Fleischmann, “come over here. Isn’t that Flebetnikov?”

“Oh, yes,” she says, “the very one.” Fleischmann leaned close to A.A. and lowered his voice: “That bloated bastard. He knows I’m interested in the Doggses—and look at him. He’s literally shoved people aside with his big sumo gut, and now he’s right up against the door.”

A.A. lowered her voice: “And therefore he’s going after the Doggses himself? Don’t you think—”

“He’s got billions of dollars, and he’s a Putin thug, and “Therefore, I’m gonna grab anything you want, just to show you you don’t have a chance against me.

“Who is he?” said Norman.

Fleischmann clearly resented Norman’s interrupting a confidential conversation. “Perhaps you’ve heard of Russian oligarchs.” Then he turned back to A.A. and was saying, “Now, the only thing—”

It was the “perhaps” that got Norman. Was Fleischmann by any chance adopting the patient peevish tone one uses with dim-wits? Norman wasn’t going to put up with that for a moment.

“Heard of them?” he said. “Try heard from them ahaaalahhHAHAHAHock hock hock! Three different psychiatrists have brought me in as consultant with these characters. Have I heard of themmmeeaaahHAAAHock hock hock!

Magdalena knew that was a lie.

“Well, I seriously doubt you ever consulted for one that obnoxious,” Fleischmann said curtly, probably wondering how he had lost control of the conversation.

Without another word, Fleischmann walked away from Norman, over to a wall of the entryway, and took a cell phone out of an inside pocket of his jacket. He looked back to make sure that nobody could overhear him. He spoke to somebody for four or five minutes. When he returned to the group, he was in a better mood.

“Who’d you call, Maurice?” said Magdalena.

Fleischmann gave her a coy boy’s flirtatious smile. “Wouldn’t you like to know!”

At that moment the entire mob of maggots grew quiet. From out of nowhere a woman had appeared on the other side of the glass wall, a blond, bony, gristly americana trying to look young in a pair of Art World Black Stovepipe pants and an Art World Black T-shirt with a deep V-neck. Thank God a Miami Basel STAFF ID was hanging from her neck. Mercifully, it covered part of the sternum bonescape where her cleavage was supposed to be. She unlocked the glass doors, put on a brittle smile, and gestured down the hall. The maggots remained silent, eerily so, as they began the big push through the doorway.

Flebetnikov popped through like an immense cork. He lost his footing for a moment in the hallway beyond and had to do a little hop to regain his balance. His great T-shirt-swathed belly pitched and yawed. He led the pack . . . with both elbows jutting out, as if to make sure no one passed him. Magdalena noticed for the first time that he was wearing what looked like basketball shoes. She looked down at Fleischmann’s feet. He had on sneakers, too! . . . tan sneakers practically the same color as his poplin pants . . . not so obtrusive as the Russian’s, but sneakers nonetheless . . . On! Into the Art World! Faster!

Now all four of them, Magdalena, Fleischmann, Norman, and A.A., squeezed through the door. The gristly woman in Art Black had wisely stepped back, out of the way of the pumped-up old men. It wasn’t a stampede exactly . . . not some utter loss of control such as pushing…but Magdalena could feel the pressure . . . One man was so close behind her, she could hear him breathing stertorously near her ear. She was being swept along in a tide of old bones dying to get in there, whatever there was.

A little hallway opened up into the main exhibition hall. The place must have been the size of a city block all by itself . . . the ceiling was—what?—three stories high?—four stories?—all in darkness. The lights were below, like the lights of a city—the lights of incredibly long rows, streets, avenues, of booths—of galleries from all over Europe and Asia as well as the United States . . . must be hundreds of them! Art for sale! A gigantic bazaar . . . just lying there, spread out before these, the most important maggots . . . All theirs! . . . See it! Like it! Buy it!

The clump of frenzied old men began to break apart . . . they began to regain their voices, but all were drowned out by a bellowing voice just inside the entrance.

“Gedouda my vay, imbecile! I cromble you and your biece a baper!”

It was Flebetnikov, trying to maneuver his big belly past a security guard who stood between him and all the irresistible treasures beyond . . . The guard was in a dark blue-gray uniform with all sorts of cop-look-alike insignia on it, including a shiny badge. Magdalena knew the type at a glance . . . Not just any security guard, but a classic Florida redneck . . . thick buzz cut of reddish-blond hair . . . meaty, fleshy . . . huge forearms stuck out of his short-sleeved shirt like a pair of hams . . . In one hand he held an official-looking document up before Flebetnikov’s face.

Flebetnikov swatted it aside and stuck his face directly into the redneck’s and roared in his deepest voice, spraying spittle, “Now you gon’ ged ouda my vay! You onderstond?” With that, he placed the heel of his hand against the redneck’s chest, as if to say, “—and I mean it! You either get out of my way or I’ll throw you out of my way!”

Big mistake. Faster than Magdalena would have thought he could move, the redneck bent the arm of the hand that touched him into some sort of hold that locked Flebetnikov up, his voice, his body, his soul. Not a peep out of him. He seemed to know instinctively that here was a good old country boy who would happily beat a fat Russian senseless and feed him to the hogs.

Magdalena turned toward Fleischmann and Norman—but they were no longer beside her. They were three or four feet ahead. Fleischmann nudged Norman in the ribs with his elbow, and they looked at each other and grinned. A.A. was ahead of them, walking at a terrific pace, heading presumably toward the Jeb Doggses to nail down the advantage, now that the security guard had terrified Flebetnikov and stopped him in his tracks.

Maggots were rooting and slithering all over the place with their advisers, scurrying toward the booths of their dreams. Over there!—a shoving match! . . . Looked like the two hedge fund managers— from someplace in Connecticut?—Fleischmann had pointed out . . . Even farther ahead of Magdalena now a HahaHHHHock hock hock hock cackle, and Norman’s looking back at the two chubby little pugilists . . . but not Fleischmann. He and his A.A., Miss Carr, are all business, about to head into a booth. A big, hearty maggot—Magdalena remembered him from the line—comes up from the side, smiles, and says, “How’s it going, Marilynn?” A.A. looks at him for a split second with a wary look that asks not who but what is this . . . creature? . . . attacking, assaulting her attention at a crucial moment like this? She ignores him.

Norman follows them into the booth and stands beside them . . . them, and a tall man with gray hair, although he doesn’t look all that old, and eerie pale-gray eyes like the slanted eyes of a husky or whatever those dogs that pull sleds through the snow up near the Arctic Circle are called.

A.A. says, “You must know Harry Goshen, don’t you, Maurice?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” says Fleischmann. He turns to the man with the eerie eyes and gives him a chilly little smile, and they shake hands.

So pale, those eyes . . . they look ghostly and sinister . . . He wore a pale-gray suit, too, and a light-blue tie . . . the only man in a coat and tie Magdalena had seen all day . . . black shoes so highly polished, the crease between the toes and the arch of the foot shimmered. He had to be the owner of the gallery . . . or a salesman at the very least . . . Rich collectors, she had just seen, dressed in rags and sneakers.

Fleischmann and A.A. and Arctic-eyed Harry Goshen stood before a row of stout maple boxes, each three or so inches high and anywhere from nine to twenty-four inches long, unpainted, unstained, but lacquered with so many coats of clear lacquer, they screamed at you. This man Harry Goshen opened the lid of a big one . . . completely lined, lid and all, with chocolate-colored suede . . . and lifted out a big, round slab of transparent frosted glass, maybe two inches thick . . . you could tell by the strain on Harry Goshen’s hands and arms and posture, the damned thing was heavy. He turned it at about a forty-five-degree angle . . . the translucent glass flooded with light and there, somehow carved deep into the glass . . . exquisitely carved, in the smoothest detail—

“Sort of, you know, Art Deco,” A.A. said to Fleischmann.

—in bas-relief, a young woman with long curving locks—

A.A. was holding up some photograph. “Pretty much like him, don’t you think?”

—and a young man with short curving locks . . . were fucking . . . and you could “see everything” as the saying goes, and “everything” was flooded with translucent light.

Norman was so excited, a foolish grin spread over his face, and he leaned way over to get the closest possible look at “everything.” Fleischmann looked totally baffled. He kept switching his eyes from the pornographic carving to A.A.’s face and back to the glass and once more to A.A.’s face . . . What am I supposed to think, A.A.?

Pale-gray-eyed Goshen takes a round slab from another lacquered box . . . turns it until . . . there! . . . it becomes a man and woman . . . fornicating in a different way . . . another slab . . . anally . . . another . . . three figures, two women and one man, fornicating in an anatomically improbable combination . . . another . . . two women and two men . . . fornicating . . . fingers, tongues, mouths, whole forearms, disappearing into filthy places . . . Fleischmann now frantically looking from the light-flooded glass to Marilynn Carr . . . back and forth . . . Time is of the essence . . . others will be here any moment . . . Flebetnikov, to be specific . . . Magdalena moves closer . . . Fleischmann looks at his A.A. . . . pleading . . . She turns her head ever so slightly, meaning no . . . Magdalena can hear her saying . . . in the lowest of voices, “Not iconic Doggs” . . . Another. . . fornicating . . . Fleischmann looking frantically at Marilynn Carr. Without a word she nods her head up and down ever so slowly . . . meaning yes! . . . Fleischmann immediately turns to the ghostly husky, who says in a ghostly low voice, “Three.” Fleischmann turns to Marilynn Carr, looks at her desperately . . . She nods her head up and down slowly again . . . Desperately Fleischmann turns to the ghostly Goshen and mutters from deep in his throat, “Yes” . . . and Goshen pastes a red dot on the lacquered box containing the slab . . . Now looking back and forth so rapidly . . . whispering, giving signals desperately . . . Goshen says, “Two and a half.” Fleischmann, hoarsely, “Yes” . . . another red dot on another lacquered box . . . Barely forty-five seconds have elapsed.

A bellow! A roar! Here he comes. Flebetnikov’s T-shirt-upholstered hulk must have gotten loose. He’s heading this way. He’s furious; he’s roaring in Russian, for somebody’s benefit . . . then roars in English, “Anodder hole in his nose he vants, dad son ma bitch!” . . . Goshen acts as if he doesn’t hear it or just doesn’t care . . . No raging Russian is going to interrupt this streak! Flebetnikov growls and roars and vows to put yet anodder hole in the son ma bitch’s nose. He’s coming closer. Fleischmann seems calmer, but he still accelerates his mission . . . another red dot (“three and a half”) . . . another red dot (“one”) . . . red dots red dots red dots (“two,” “four” for the orgy scene, dear God! . . . then “nine one seven”–) . . . all these red dots. ::::::That must be what they mean when they talk about the “measles.”::::::

If those numbers meant what Magdalena was beginning to believe they meant, Fleischmann had just spent 17 million dollars, or $17 million minus $83,000, assuming 917 meant $917,000, in less than fifteen minutes. And if Marilynn Carr, with her fair white thighs and English bob, got 10 percent from the seller, the ghostly husky, and 10 percent from the buyer, Fleischmann, she had just made $3,400,000 for herself, assuming Norman had explained the commissions accurately.

Flebetnikov’s Russian roar was drawing closer and closer.

A.A. said to Fleischmann, “Why don’t we get out of here? I know Flebetnikov. He’s not a rational person.”

For the first time since this whole thing began, Fleischmann smiled. “And miss all the fun?”

Fleischmann insisted on waiting for Flebetnikov. He stood right outside the entrance to the booth. A.A. looked very nervous. Fleischmann was suddenly the picture of happiness.

Flebetnikov arrived, roaring in Russian. A tall, dark, anxious-looking man was by his side.

“That’s Lushnikin,” A.A. whispered to Fleischmann. “He’s the art adviser for most of the oligarchs.”

Flebetnikov was growling like a bear. He roared at Lushnikin in Russian . . . something ending with “Goshen.” For the first time he noticed Fleischmann. He appeared startled; also wary. Perhaps guilty?

“Comrade Flebetnikov!” boomed Fleischmann. “You interested in Doggs?” With his thumb he indicated the booth behind him. “I was, too. But all the good stuff is already gone. At Miami Basel you got to be fast. See it, like it, buy it.”

From Flebetnikov’s expression you couldn’t tell whether he detected the sarcasm or not. He blinked. He looked bewildered. Without another word he turned and entered the booth, yelling, “Lushnikin! Lushnikin!”

Fleischmann departed, chuckling to himself, no doubt envisioning the red-dot desolation and defeat awaiting the Comrade inside the booth. Norman was practically on Maurice’s heels, Norman and AA. Norman had a hazy smile on his face, an interior smile so to speak. He was thinking of himself transformed into a rich man by just being there when it all happened, if Magdalena knew anything about it. He didn’t even look to see where she was, he was so deep into his imaginary world. He had walked thirty or forty feet down the row before her existence occurred to him. He didn’t want to get separated from his glorious friends, but he hesitated long enough to swivel his head this way and that. When he spotted her, he beckoned her with a big sweeping motion of his arm . . . without waiting for her, however. He wheeled about on one heel and continued in Fleischmann’s glorious wake.

Not knowing what else to do, Magdalena began walking after him. On either side, within the booths near the entrance . . . red dots. It was astonishing. So many pieces had been sold so fast . . . Red dots, red dots, red dots . . . “The measles outbreak” . . . but of course—that was what they had been talking about! All the red dots . . . 17 million dollars’ worth in Fleischmann’s case. Who knew how many more millions all those other red dots represented?! Then it began to make her sick. Think of how shallow and wantonly wasteful these people were! These americanos! Think of Fleischmann spending almost 17 million dollars on seven obscene pieces of glass . . . $17 million in thirteen or fourteen minutes, for fear a fat Russian might lay hands on this idiotic stuff first . . . all for show! . . . a 17-million-dollar personal exhibition . . . Norman didn’t see that . . . He was absorbed by it. A little Cuban girl named Magdalena no longer existed, did she. Norman had put her out of his mind. Her resentment rose up like flames. Arson it became. She took grim satisfaction in feeding the fire. That bastard. ::::::Norman, you’re a disgusting suck-up to money. No display of money strikes you as trashy, does it. Insulted me! Why should I put up with him any longer?::::::

lnvoluntarily, unbidden, four things popped into the Wernicke’s area of her brain: her BMW . . . registered in the name of Dr. Norman Lewis, since he, in strict point of fact, owned it; her pay . . . which she received in the form of a check signed by Dr. Norman N. Lewis; her apartment—her home, as she now thought of it—property of Dr. Norman Lewis; the extra money she needed in a clutch to keep up the payments on her student loan . . . providentially provided by Dr. Norman N. Lewis . . . The rebel streak in her was fading fast.

She shucked off her pride and trooped on toward the VIP lounge. A row of four-foot-high modular partitions had been assembled to compel all who would breathe the same air as very important people to pass through an opening at one end manned by a security guard. Another big redneck. Suppose he wouldn’t let her in? He was like a caricature of the breed. What if he gave her a hard time?

The man took a cursory glance at the laminated VIP ID around her neck and waved her in. This one had Couldn’t Care Less written all over him.

The only symbol of one’s exalted status in the FIZ (Fuggerzberuf Industriellbank of Zurich) VIP room was the mere fact that one had been allowed in at all. Otherwise, the place was nothing but a sea of what is known in commercial real estate as “Contract

furniture,” simple modern chairs and small tables made of as much plastic as possible. The very important people therein could sit down, take a load off, go get a drink, and tell war stories of the Miami Basel battles for hot items, which is to say, exchange very important gossip.

Way out in the sea, Magdalena sat at a table with Fleischmann, A.A., and Norman, whom she was now pointedly ignoring. She figured she owed herself at least that much self-respect. Madame Carr was suddenly the life of the party. Magdalena wondered if Norman or even Fleischmann had any idea, out of 3.4 million possible answers why. At the moment, she was answering a question from Norman . . . Norman, who had once told Magdalena, “Be careful asking questions. Asking questions is the surest way of revealing your ignorance.” Be that as it may, Norman had asked a question, and Marilynn Carr was saying, “How did Doggs learn how to work in glass? He doesn’t work in glass or anything else. Don’t you know about No Hands art and De-skilled art?”

“Oh, I guess I’ve heard about it—but no, not really,” Norman said lamely, or lamely for Norman.

A.A. said, “No cutting-edge artist touches materials anymore, or instruments.”

“What do you mean, instruments, A.A.?” said Fleischmann.

“Oh, you know,” she said, “paintbrushes, clay, shaping knives, chisels . . . all that’s from the Manual Age. Remember painting? That seems so 1950s now. Remember Schnabel and Fischl and Salle and all that bunch? They all seem so 1950s now, even though their fifteen minutes came in the 1970s. The new artists, like Doggs, look at all those people like they’re from another century, which they were, when you get right down to it. They were still using their hands to do little visual tricks on canvas that were either pretty and pleasant and pleased people or ugly and baffling and ‘challenged’ people. Challenged . . . Ohmygod—” She broke into a smile and shook her head, as if to say, “Can you believe the way it used to be?!”

“Then how does Doggs do it?” said Fleischmann. “I guess never really asked.”

“lt’s actually fascinating,” said A.A. “He got hold of, Doggs did, this call girl, Daphne Deauville, the one who cost the governor of New Jersey his job? —and on the strength of that she gets a job as a columnist for the New York City Light? I couldn’t believe it! So anyway, Doggs gets a photographer to take some pictures of him . . . well, fucking her brains out”—lately it had become daringly chic for women to use fucking in conversation—”and doing this and that . . . and sent the photographs off to Dalique, and Dalique got their elves to reproduce the photographs in three dimensions in Dalique glass, but Doggs never touched the pieces—never. He had no hand at all in making them. And if he touched the photographs, it was just to put them in an envelope and FedEx them to Dalique, although I’m sure he has an assistant to do things like that. No Hands—that’s an important concept now. It’s not some artist using his so-called skills to deceive people. It’s not a sleight of hand. It’s no hands at all. That makes it conceptual, of course. That way he turns what a manual artist would use to create . . . an effect . . . into something that compels you to think about it in a deeper way. It’s almost as if he has invented a fourth dimension. And there you’ve got the very best, the most contemporary work of the whole rising generation. Most of Doggs’s work in this show is iconic. Everyone who sees one of yours, Maurice, will say, ‘My God! That’s Doggs at the outset of his classic period,’ because I’m convinced that’s what his work is. It’s cutting-edge, and at the same time it’s classic. That kind of work isn’t available every day! Believe me! . . . Maurice . . . you have . . . really . . . scored this time.”

Really scored . . . Fleischmann looked very pleased, but his smile was the baffled smile of someone who can’t explain his own good fortune. Obviously he hadn’t understood a word of A.A.’s explanation. That made Magdalena feel better, because she hadn’t understood a word of it, either.

Tom Wolfe – Back to Blood, 2012. Chapter 10: The Super Bowl of the Art World. 

Back to Blood is a fly on the art-wall, satirical exposé of the vanity and vulgarity of the world of contemporary art – the creation and display of depraved art and artists, of corrupt extravagance and extreme wealth. Set in the superficial glamour of Miami, Sergei Korolyov, a newly-emerged Russian oligarch donates $70 million in Russian modernist paintings to a new art museum. The observation of the Emperor’s New Clothes and the world of art – faux, artificial and imitative – is central to the novel, and Chapter 20 ‘The Superbowl of the Art World’ is devoted to the social status of celebrity infested ‘Art Basel Miami Beach’ and the partitions of artist, dealer, gallery, art advisers wearing ‘Art Black’, maggots (collectors) and the crucial A-list ID card that allows entry to the FIZ (Fuggerzberuf Industriellbank of Zurich) VIP room. The entreé to the art fair – the ‘off-site’ ‘Instant Museum’, features a clichéd, naked performance by German artist Heidi Schlossel, entitled ‘De-fucked’. The portrayal of the buyers’ art-lust at ‘Art Basel Miami Beach’ is a sharp observation of primal urges, raw greed, physical aggression, and the mantra of materialism – See it! Like it! Buy it! – described in the style of a Hollywood epic battle-scene. The focal attraction is the work by Jeb Doggs – glass objects depicting pornographic sexual acts made by Dalique (sic) which are bought for $17million in under 15 minutes.

Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2002

 

gerhard-richter_dead-tote-1988_oil-on-canvas_moma
Gerhard Richter. Dead (Tote) 1988. Oil on Canvas. 62x73cm, MoMA, New York

She knew there was someone else in the room. There was no outright noise, just an intimidation behind her, a faint displacement of air. She’d been alone for a time, seated on a bench in the middle of the gallery with the paintings set around her, a cycle of fifteen canvases, and this is how it felt to her, that she was sitting as a person does in a mortuary chapel, keeping watch over the body of a relative or friend.

This was sometimes called the viewing, she believed.

She was looking at Ulrike now, head and upper body, her neck rope-scorched, although she didn’t know for certain what kind of implement had been used in the hanging.

She heard the other person walk toward the bench, a man’s heavy shuffling stride, and she got up and went to stand before the picture pof Ulrike, one of three related images, Ulrike dead in each, lying on the floor of her cell, head in profile. The canvases varied in size. The woman’s reality, the head, the neck, the rope burn, the hair, the facial features, were painted, picture to picture, in nuances of obscurity and pall, a detail clearer here than there, the slurred mouth in one painting appearing nearly natural elsewhere, all of it unsystematic.

“Why do you think he did it this way?”

She did not turn to look at him.

“So shadowy. No color.”

She said, “I don’t know,” and went to the next set of images, called Man Shot Down. This was Andreas Baader. She thought of him by his full name or surname. She thought of Meinhof, she saw Meinhof as first name only, Ulrike, and the same was the case with Gudrun.

“I’m trying to think what happened to them.”

“They committed suicide. Or the state killed them.”

He said, “The state.” Then he said it again, deep-voiced„ in a tone of melodramatic menace, trying out a line reading that might be more suitable.

She wanted to be annoyed but felt instead a vague chagrin. It wasn’t like her to use this term – the state – in the ironclad context of supreme public power. This was not her vocabulary.

The two paintings of Baader dead in his cell were the same size but addressed the subject somewhat differently, and this is what she did now – she concentrated on the differences, arm, shirt, unknown object at the edge of the frame, the disparity or uncertainty.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I’m only telling you what people believe. It was twenty-five years ago. I don’t know what it was like then, in Germany, with bombings and kidnappings.”

“The made an agreement, don’t you think?”

“Some people believe they were murdered in their cells.”

“A pact. There were terrorists, weren’t they? When they’re not killing other people, they’re killing themselves.” he said. 

She was looking at Andreas Baader, first one painting, then the other, then back again.

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s even worse in a way. It’s so much sadder. There’s so much sadness in these pictures.”

Don DeLillo,1936. Baader-Meinhof, in, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, 2011. First published as Baader-Menhof, in The New Yorker, April 1st 2002

Images: Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Man Shot Down 2 (Erschossener 2), 1988. Oil on Canvas, 100.5 x 140.5 cm

Gerhard Richter, b.1932. Dead (Tote), 1988. Oil on canvas, 62 x 73 cm

© MoMA, New York. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of Emily Rauh Pulitzer

The short story describes a series of fifteen paintings entitled, October 18, 1977, by Gerhard Richter, born 1932, now in MoMA, New York. Text from: Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007. The fifteen paintings that compose October 18, 1977 are based on photographs of moments in the lives and deaths of four members of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF), a German left-wing terrorist group that perpetrated a number of kidnappings and killings throughout the 1970s. . . . these paintings have a single date as their title. On this date the bodies of three principal RAF members were found in the cells of the German prison where they were incarcerated. Although the deaths were officially deemed suicides, there was widespread suspicion that the prisoners had been murdered by the German state police. Richter based his paintings on newspaper and police photographs; his reworking of these documentary sources is dark, blurred, and diffuse. Richter hopes that, “by way of reporting,” these paintings will “contribute to an appreciation of [our time], to see it as it is.”

 

Jeffrey Eugenides: The Mad Library,2004

Pissink Ink, Mathew Hale Miriam Books,2004

Jan laughed without mirth. Like most gallerists, he depended on artists without entirely approving of them. They were childish. They had food fights at nice restaurants, at which times he was forced to reprimand them. Jan always felt overdressed in their company. At the same time he was a fine judge of talent and possessed the organizational competence necessary to the business of art. That evening, when the artists got drunkenly up to dance, Jan heaved his bulk out of his chair and wandered into the library.

Ten minutes later he came rushing out.

Miles, what are these drawings?”

Wormington didn’t know what to say.

They’re fantastic.”

Do you think?”

This is a big departure for you.”

Wormington looked at the open book van der Pluijm was holding. On page 132 of something called “The Quest for Love,” a naked woman (Asiatic by the dashes of her eyes) lay against the grain of the print, holding in one hand the bent stalk of a penis. Was it really? Wormington squinted. There was a tensile quality to the drawing, suggesting that for a long time the artist hadn’t known what it was going to be. And then suddenly he had known. The discovery of its subject was its subject. Part of the page was blacked out. Looking harder, Wormington saw the words “John Lennon” submerged in this darkened area. So the naked woman was Yoko then. And that was Lennon’s penis she was holding. And those were Lennon’s balls.

Yes, it is different,” Wormington said. “For me.” He scanned the text for an explanation of the drawing’s content, but other than a mention of “the English” and something about “two-second spasms” there was nothing definite. Wormington’s head felt fuzzy.

I am thinking we make a show of these drawings. We hang the books up in the gallery. Or do you think we cut the pages out and frame them?”

Wormington’s eyes were playful as he considered this. But his voice remained serious. “My conception,” he said and hesitated. “The idea I had, originally, was to cut the pages out.” He was enjoying himself now. “I like the idea of them being disembodied.”

Disembodied. Good. So we cut them out. That will make it easier for the sales, too.”

Will it? Sales?”

Yeah, sure. I have an opening at the gallery in a month. We do the show then.”

Wormington, still drunkenly extemporizing, impersonating someone he had never met, accepted. It didn’t seem as though this were really happening. On the other hand, if it were happening, he needed the money. And, besides, who would ever know?

Jeffrey Eugenides, born 1960       The Mad Library: A Fable, 2004

An excerpt from a short story published in the catalogue ‘PISSING INK, produced for Mathew Hale’s solo exhibition, ‘DIE STADT . LA CITTA’ . THE MOTHER’, at DAAD, Berlin.

Publisher: DAAD Galerie Berlin (Hg./Ed.), 2004; 116 pages, with text in English by Jeffrey Eugenides, Jordan Kantor, Assistant Curator, Department of Drawings, MoMA, New York, and an afterword by Friedrich Meschede. ISBN: 3-89357-110-8  PiSsInG InK: 80 Pages, Mathew Hale from Miriam Books

Édouard Levé – Oeuvres,2002

Oeuvre1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being.
72. The eraser residues of all the students in a fine arts institute are collected for a year and reconstituted into a cube.
84. Photographs catalogue an inventory of destroyed works. Once its destruction is complete, what’s left of a piece is rubble and ashes. Damages are classified by type: fire, flood, submersion, earthquake, shock, fall, collapse, bombardment, assault, vandalism, poor conservation . . .
89. Soap bubbles are blown into a space where the temperature is 100°C. Keeping the shape that the cold surprised them in, they are exhibited in a refrigerated aquarium.
95. An artist creates ten paintings on his fingernails. Those on his left hand are painted with those on his right hand, and vice versa. The exhibit takes place in the home of the viewer. He is given a ten-sided die and asked to throw it. The artist shows him the fingernail corresponding to the number on the die for as he long as the viewer wants. He keeps his other fingernails hidden. The exhibition ends after ten throws of the die. The viewer has a chance of thirty-six out of a hundred million to see all ten nails in the same session.
110. The atelier of Frenhofer, the painter in Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, as imagined by four readers, is shown as slideshow projections onto the walls of a room. The readers explain their visual interpretation to an artist, who draws the scene, dutifully complying with each reader’s amendments, in the style of an identikit. These drawings form the basis for the construction of four ateliers that are then photographed, the result showing four real versions of this fictive place.
113. The silhouette of a dog is cut out of a pornographic picture.
142. “POISONWOOD FAIRYLAND” is painted in orange block capitals on canvas woven from flax linen taken from a field peppered with poisonous plants.
143. A labyrinth is painted in skimmed milk on a museum façade is destroyed in bad weather.
179. In an enormous hall lies a valley between two mountainous slopes made out of white Styrofoam. At the far end is a crashed Airbus A 320 made out of kebabs. Smaller parts of the wreck, also made out of kebabs are scattered throughout the valley, making visible the trajectory of the accident. The ensemble is looked upon through a panoramic window piercing the wall.
181. The Aleph. A dull glass sphere floats in the middle of a dark room. Random video images taken from cinema and television archives are projected onto its surface from the inside. Landscapes, houses, animals, automobiles, supermarkets, books, news, images, scenes of family, love, war . . .
212. A naked man, seated on a chair. His testicles are two tiny globes: the one the earth, the other the moon.
228. A misty black ring against a white wall—trace of a motorcycle tailpipe.
238. Places are photographed by their reflections in spit bubbles.
247. The paragraphs of a novel are replaced by black rectangles whose surface area corresponds to the number of letters used in the paragraph. Spaces and line breaks are not counted. The top of each rectangle is aligned with where the corresponding paragraph started. The narrative is reduced to a sequence of geometric paintings.
358. The labels on a sound system—CD, Tape, Tuner, Aux—are replaced with new ones: Love, Break-up, Friendship, Depression.
359. A naked man standing upright is adorned with pockets of colour created by using a syringe to inject ink into the layer of silicone he wears on his skin.
372. The daily sounds made by a family in a house are recorded. The family then moves out and the house is emptied. Only the marks made by their furniture on the floors and walls remain. In each room, the sounds made there while the house was occupied are played back.
378. The paintings in a museum of fine arts are temporarily taken down and replaced by monochrome paintings of identical dimensions. The colour of each monochrome is chosen by a computer that analyses all the brushstrokes of the original painting and comes up with its average colour. With rare exceptions, such as paintings of the sky, or night scenes, the dominant colour is brown.
385. A stream disappears into the earth somewhere in a French park where visitors throw flowers into it. Somewhere in a garden in New Zealand, is a spring where the emerging water contains the same flowers.
449. The letterboxes inside an apartment building bear the names of famous dead writers and artists.
499. A human puddle lies on the floor, halfway between a bearskin and a pool of polyurethane. Head, hands, feet, nipples, genitals, buttocks, elbows, knees, and shoulders poke up here and there out of a shapeless mass of pink silicone.
471. Schopenhauer’s The Art of Being Right is read in the tone of a televised soccer commentary.
512. Museum of the Answering Machine. Chosen at random from the phone book, ten thousand messages left on answering machines are collected. Kept on CD-ROM, they can be consulted using a computer, either by typing in a number between one and ten thousand, or through searching for a keyword corresponding to a type of language or to a word used in the message.
520. A novel is shot with a revolver, resulting in a bullet hole piercing its core. The missing words are found in another copy. A short story called “The Hole” is written, using only these words.
530: A Philip K. Dick story is written in reverse. The last sentence is the first, the second to last is the second, and so on, right up to the first sentence, which is the last.
533. After having published a book describing works he has not brought into being, the author gives public readings. The audience is invited to say the number of the work they wish to have read to them, and the author complies by reading the corresponding description. The reading ends when no one asks him to continue.

Édouard Levé,1965-2007. Oeuvres,2002 Works,2014

Édouard Levé, Oeuvres. Published by P.O.L Editeur, France, 2002.

Édouard Levé, Works. Published by Dalkey Archive Press, 2014. Translation by Jan Steyn.

Édouard Levé’s Oeuvres is modular rather than a narrative literature, describing in the style of a formal catalogue, a potential list of 533 conceptual artworks conceived by the author. Many of the ideas appear odd, banal or ridiculous as isolated conceptual artworks, although they are often closely related to contemporary artists’ statements and projects, and verge on satirizing the content of contemporary art. The first project described in this book, 1. A book describes works that the author has conceived but not brought into being is in fact the book Oeuvres. Some ideas were completed by Levé, in the books Amérique and Pornographie. Oeuvres emerges from the Oulipo group and post-1945 French experimental writing.

Will Self – The Book of Dave,2006

The Book of Dave

October 2000

     Achilles was getting off his plinth; first one big foot then the other tore
from its base with a tortured screech. He cut at the rags of mist with his
short sword and brandished his shield at the Hilton Hotel. A couple of
early-bird tourists who had been posing for a snap in front of the statue ~
male pecking with camera, female with wings neatly folded — were struck
to the ground by one of Achilles’s bulldozing greaves, as he clunked by
them heading for Apsley House. He did not waver — he had no quarrel
with them. He took no issue either with the cars he kicked as he strode
across the roadway and on to the traffic island. Seven metres of bronze
against two-millimetre thicknesses of steel — there was no contest; in the
statue’s wake smashed vehicles lay on their sides, their engines racing and
groaning.
     Lit by the rising sun, fingernails of opalescent cloud scratched contrails
on the sky. Achilles stood beneath Constitution Arch and beat shield with
sword. With a bang, then a spatter of stony fragments, the four horses
atop the arch came alive, tossing their leaden heads. The boy holding the
traces struggled to control them. Peace, erect in her chariot, her robe
coming off her shoulder in rigid folds, flicked the reins and the whole,
mighty quadriga rose, banked sharply and came munching down. Peace
threw her laurel wreath like a frisbee, and Achilles caught it on his sword.
     The other statues on the traffic island were animating: the Iron Duke
spurred down his horse, Copenhagen; the bronze figures that attended
him — Guard, Dragoon, Fusilier and Highlander — wrenched themselves
free from the polished granite and fell in behind their commander-in-chief.
     On the Royal Regiment of Artillery memorial the dead gunner rose up
from under his petrifed greatcoat and joined his comrades. Together they
unlimbered their stone field gun. David, tall, svelte and naked, shimmied
from the Machine Gun Corps memorial — sword in one hand, Bren gun
in the other. These terrible figures stood apart, turning to face down
Piccadilly, Knightsbridge, Grosvenor Place and Park Lane, undecided
what to do now movement had been bestowed upon them. The few
pedestrians who were abroad at this early hour scattered like rabbits,
tearing between the trees of Green Park, discarding briefcases and
umbrellas as they ran, while those drivers not violently impinged on
remained oblivious, their heads clamped in their own metal tumult. The
company of statues formed up, with Achilles in the van and Peace to the
rear. They marched of down Constitution Hill, feet striking sparks as
they clanked over the kerbs.
      All across London, as the statues came to life, they were at first bemused
— then only with reluctance purposeful. Clive of India jumped from his
plinth and took the stairs down to Horse Guards skipping. Lincoln at first
sat down, surprised, then, struggling up from his chair in Parliament
Square, crossed over to the menhir bulk of Churchill, took his arm and
assisted him to walk. Earl Haig led his mount alongside Montgomery, who
was preposterous in his dimpled elephantine trousers. In Knightsbridge,
Shackleton and Livingstone stepped out from their niches in the Royal
Geographical Society. Golden Albert squeezed between the gilded stan-
chions of his memorial, and those blowzy ladies Europe, Africa, Asia and
America formed a stony crocodile in his train. In Waterloo Place, Scott
strolled up and down the pavement, striking a few attitudes, modelling
his Burberry outfit.
      In Chelsea, Thomas More stood up abruptly, his golden nose flashing;
while across the river the droopy-eared Buddhas were stirring in their
pagoda. Up in Highgate Cemetery the colossal head of Marx wobbled,
then rolled downhill over the mounds of freshly dug graves. They were all
heading for Trafalgar Square, where five-metre-high Nelson was gingerly
shinnying down his own column, while Edith Cavell tripped past St Martin-in-the-Fields, her marble skirts rattling against the pedestrian barriers.
Not only human figures were on the move but animals as well: packs
of stone dogs and herds of bronze cattle. Guy the Gorilla knuckle-walked
out of London Zoo and around the Outer Circle; the dolphins slithered
from the lamp-posts along the Thames and flopped into town. Mythical
creatures joined the throng closing in on Trafalgar Square: riddling
sphinxes, fying griffins and even the ill-conceived Victorian dinosaurs
came humping overland from Crystal Palace. The whole mad overwrought
bestiary arrived ramping and romping. The Landseer lions rose up to meet
them, stretched and soundlessly roared.
     Multiples of monarchs: doughty Williams, German Georges, dumpy
Victorias. Presses of prime ministers, scrums of generals and colonial
administrators, flying vees of viceroys, gaggles of writers and artists,
cohorts of Christs – from façades and niches, plinths and pediments,
Crucifixes and crosses, the statues of London tore themselves free, until the
whole centre of the city was a heaving hubbub of tramping bronze,
clanking cast-iron, grating granite and marble. These graven images, these
tin-pot gods! They had no more uniformity of purpose than they did of
style, substance or scale — giant warmongers and diminutive deities, they
were distorted embodiments of their creators’ confused and ever-changing
priorities. They didn’t mean to cause any damage or distress — but they
just did. They left pediments bare and cornices crumpling, domes imploded,
porticos and bridges slumped, colonnades collapsed. They didn’t mean to
hurt the soft little people, but they were so big and hard that skins were
split and skulls were crushed wherever they went.
     Standing on the steps of Nelson’s Column, Achilles beat sword on
shield, trying to gain the statues’ attention. It was pointless — these hunks
could make no common cause, they knew nothing, felt nothing — only the
rage of eternal sleepers robbed of their repose. Greek gods and goddesses
stood about in profile; Saint Thomas à Becket writhed in his death agony;
Baden-Powell scouted out the terrain. Slowly — lazily even — the statues
began to fight one another. Marble clanged on iron, granite on bronze, as
the maddened effigies battled with the incomprehensibility of their own
sentience. What were they? Nothing. So sightlessly stared through for so
very long that they had no more significance than a dustbin or a postbox
— less perhaps.
     Then there was a diversion — some dumb cabbie had managed to wrestle
his vehicle free from the jam on the Charing Cross Road, and now he was
trying to turn around in the roadway beneath the National Gallery. He
backed and filled, knocking fauns, cherubs and caryatids over like ninepins.
Achilles leaped down from his vantage and strode over. He leaned down,
and his disproportionately tiny cock rasped along the cab’s roof shattering
the ‘For Hire’ sign . . .

 

Will Self, born 1961.        The Book of Dave, 2006

“Lest this seem too recherché, too recondite, too elitist, I would go further, and argue that as the aesthete was to the late nineteenth-century writer, so the ordinary man’s perception of the visual arts is to the twentieth. Joyce, as ever, stands at the crossroads of futurity. In Ulysses (1922), Leopold Bloom may be obsessed with the marble statues of the Greek goddesses in the Irish National Gallery for motives as much prurient as aesthetic, but the fact remains that he is obsessed by them. A pudendum is as good a way into a thing as any other.  In my own new novel, The Book of Dave (2006), I take this democratisation of the aesthetic a few steps further. My protagonist, a London cabbie called Dave Rudman, is a collector of statues: the entire city is his private gallery, its monumental works are his bibelots.”

Art for fiction’s sake: The Art of Writing, by Will Self. 1 September 2006. Tate etc. issue 8. Autumn 2006. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/art-fictions-sake

Michel Houellebecq – La carte et le territoire, 2010 The Map and the Territory

la-carte-et-le-territoire

A little despite himself, he approached Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, which was standing on his easel in the middle of the studio, and dissatisfaction seized him again, still more bitterly. He realised he was hungry, which wasn’t normal after the complete Christmas dinner he’d had with his father — starter, main course, cheese and dessert, nothing had been left out but he felt hungry and so hot he could no longer breathe. He returned to the kitchen, opened a tin of cannelloni in sauce and ate them one by one, while looking morosely at his failed painting. Koons was undoubtedly not light enough, not ethereal enough — it would perhaps have been necessary to give him wings, like the god Mercury, he thought stupidly; there, with his pinstriped suit and salesman’s smile, he reminded you a bit of Silvio Berlusconi.

On the ArtPrice ranking of the richest artists, Koons was world number 2; for a few years now, Hirst, ten years his junior, had taken his place at number 1. As for Jed, he had reached 593 ten years ago — but 17 in France. He had then, as the Tour de France commentators say, ‘dropped to the bottom of the classement’, before disappearing from it altogether. He finished the tin of cannelloni and opened an almost empty bottle of cognac. Lighting his ramp of halogen lamps to the maximum, he trained them on the centre of the canvas. On closer inspection, the night itself wasn’t right: it didn’t have that sumptuousness, that mystery we associate with nights on the Arabian peninsula; he should have used a deep blue, not ultramarine. He was making a truly shit painting. He seized a palette knife, cut open Damien Hirst’s eye, and forced the gash wider; it was a canvas of tight linen fibres, and therefore very tough. Catching the sticky canvas with one hand, he tore it in one blow, tipping the easel over onto the floor. Slightly calmed, he stopped, looked at his hands, sticky with paint, and finished the cognac before jumping feet first onto his painting, stamping on it and rubbing it against the floor until it became slippery. He ended up losing his balance and fell, the back of his head hitting the frame of the easel violently. He belched and vomited, and suddenly felt better, the fresh night air circulating freely on his face, and he closed his eyes contentedly: he had visibly reached the end of a cycle.

Chapter 9.

Many years later, when he had become famous — extremely famous, if the truth be told — Jed would be asked numerous times what it meant, in his eyes, to be an artist. He would find nothing very interesting or original to say, except one thing, which he would consequently repeat in each interview: to be an artist, in his view, was above all to be someone submissive. Someone who submitted himself to mysterious, unpredictable messages, that you would be led, for want of a better word and in the absence of any religious belief, to describe as intuitions, messages which nonetheless commanded you in an imperious and categorical manner, without leaving the slightest possibility of escape — except by losing any notion of integrity and self-respect. These messages could involve destroying a work, or even an entire body of work, to set off in a radically new direction, or even occasionally no direction at all, without having any project at all, or the slightest hope of continuing. It was thus, and only thus, that the artists condition could, sometimes, be described as difficult. It was also thus, and only thus, that it distinguished itself from other professions or trades, to which he would pay homage in the second part of his career, the one which would earn him worldwide renown.

Chapter 11.

Jed was not to remain faithful to the Sennelier brand, and his mature paintings are almost entirely made with Mussini oils by Schmincke. There are exceptions, and certain greens, particularly the cinnabar greens that give such a magical glow to the forests of California pine descending towards the sea in Bill Gates and Steve jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology, are borrowed from the Rembrandt range of oils by the firm Royal Talens. And for the whites he almost always used Old Holland oils, whose opacity he appreciated.

Jed Martin’s first paintings, art historians have later emphasised, could easily lead you down the wrong track. By devoting his first two canvases, Ferdinand Desroches, Horse Butcher then Claude Vorilhon, Bar-Tabac Manager, to professions in decline, Martin could give the impression of nostalgia for a past age, real or fantasised, in France. Nothing, and this is the conclusion that has ended up emerging about all his works, was more foreign to his real preoccupations; and if Martin began by looking at two washed-up professions, it was in no way because he wanted to encourage lamentations on their probable disappearance: it was simply that they were, indeed, going to disappear soon, and it was important to fix their images on canvas while there was still time. For his third painting in the series of professions, Maya Dubois, Remote Maintenance Assistant, he devoted himself to a profession that was in no way stricken or old fashioned, a profession on the contrary emblematic of the policy of just-in-time production which had orientated the entire economic redeployment of Western Europe at the turn of the third millennium.

In the first monograph he devoted to Martin, Wong Fu Xin develops a curious analogy based on colorimetry. The colours of the objects in the world can be represented by a certain number of primary colours; the minimum number, to achieve an almost realistic representation, is three. But you can perfectly build a colorimetric chart on the basis of four, five, six, or even more primary colours; the spectrum of representation would in this way become more extensive and subtle.

In the same way, asserts the Chinese essayist, the productive conditions of a given society may be recreated by means of a number of typical professions, whose number according to him (it is a figure he gives without any empirical evidence) can be fixed at between ten and twenty. In the numerically most important part of the ‘Professions’ series, the one that art historians have taken the habit of entitling the ‘Series of Simple Professions’, Jed Martin portrays no less than forty—two typical professions, thus offering, for the study of the productive conditions of the society of his times, a spectrum of analysis that is particularly extensive and rich. The following twenty—two paintings, centred on confrontations and encounters, classically called the ‘Series of Business Compositions’, themselves aimed to give a relational and dialectical image of the functioning of the economy as a whole.

The ‘Series of Simple Professions’ took Jed Martin a little more than seven years to paint. During these years, he didn’t meet many people, and formed no new relationship — whether sentimental or simply friendly. He had moments of sensory pleasure: an orgy of Italian pasta after a raid on the Casino hypermarket in the boulevard Vincent-Auriol; such-and-such an evening with a Lebanese escort girl whose sexual performances amply justified the ecstatic reviews she received on the site Niamodel.com. ‘Layla, I love you, you are the sunshine of my days in the office, my little oriental star,’ wrote some unfortunate fifty-somethings, while Layla for her part dreamed of muscular men, virile, poor and strong: this was the life, basically, as she saw it. Easily identified as a guy who was ‘a bit bizarre but nice, not at all dangerous’, Jed benefited with Layla from that kind of exception of extra-territoriality that has always been attributed to artists by the girls. It is maybe Layla, but more certainly Genevieve, his Malagasy ex-girlfriend, who is recalled in one of his most touching canvases, Aimée, Escort Girl, treated with an exceptionally warm palette based on umber, Indian orange and Naples yellow. At the opposite extreme from Toulouse-Lautrec’s representation of a made-up, chlorotic and unhealthy prostitute, Jed Martin paints a fulfilled young woman, both sensual and intelligent, in a modern flat bathed in light. With her back to the window, which opens onto a public garden since identified as the square des Batignolles, and simply dressed in a tight white miniskirt, Aimée is finishing putting on a tiny orange-yellow top that only very partially covers her magnificent breasts.

Martin’s only erotic painting, it is also the first where openly autobiographical echoes have been uncovered. The second one, The Architect Jean-Pierre Martin Leaving the Management of his Business, was painted two years later, and marks the beginning of a genuine period of creative frenzy that would last for a year and a half and end with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology, subtitled The Conversation at Palo Alto, which many consider his masterpiece. It is astonishing to think that the twenty-two paintings of the ‘Series of Business Compositions’, often complex and in wide format, were made in just eighteen months. It is also surprising that Jed Martin finally hit a snag on a canvas, Damien Hirst and Jefi Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, which could have, in many regards, matched his Jobs-Gates composition. Analysing this failure, Wong Fu Xin sees in it the reason for his return, a year later, to the ‘Series of Simple Professions’ through his sixty-fifth and final painting. Here, the clarity of the Chinese essayist’s thesis carries conviction: in his desire to give an exhaustive view of the productive sector of the society of his time, Jed Martin was inevitably, at one moment or another in his career, going to portray an artist.

Michel Houellebecq, 1956      La carte et le territoire, 2010 The Map and the Territory

La carte et le Terretoire, published by Flammarion, Paris 2010. © Michel Houellebecq ©Translation copyright by by Gavin Bowd, Published by William Heinnemann, London.

A M Homes – Cindy Stubenstock, in, The Book of Other People, 2007

lisa yuskavage

Cindy Stubenstock is trading up – at a recent auction, she flipped two Gurskys, an early Yuskavage and her husband’s bonus, and was on the phone later live from London topping the bidding on a rare Picasso etching that looked ‘beautiful over the fireplace’.

‘Gives whole new meaning to up in smoke,’ the cryptic British auctioneer mumbled under his breath.

Now Cindy and her Scarsdale sisterhood – aka the ladies who linger at lunch – are on the tarmac at Teterboro, wandering from plane to plane.

‘There never used to be so many,’ one says.

‘Do we really need to take two planes?’

‘Well, there are six of us and I just hate being crowded, and besides, what if I want to leave early?’ They all nod, knowing the feeling.

‘Just the thought of being trapped somewhere makes me nervous – does anyone have anything – a little blue, a little yellow?’

‘I’ve got Ativan.’

‘I’ll take it.’

‘We’re going to Miami, it’s not the rain forest, not the darkest Peru, you can get a commercial flight out any time you want – just call JetBlue,’ one of the women says.

And the others look at her horrified, aghast, shocked that she can even say the words ‘commerical flight’ so easily, without pause. Flying private is one of the perks of being who they are; it’s why they put up with so much. NO airport security.

‘Soon that will change, they’re going to have scented dogs everywhere.’

‘It’s not scented dogs, it’s sniffing dogs. Scented dogs would be like soaps, verbena, vanilla, Macchu Picchu.’

‘Why do you always correct me? I’m an old woman – leave me alone.’

‘You’re forty-eight, you’re not old.’

And then there is silence.

‘Which plane is it? He keeps trading them in. I never know which one is ours.’

‘She calls it trading them in – he calls it fractional ownership,’ one of the women whispers.

‘G4, Falcon, Citation, Hawker, Learjet – remember when they were all “Learjets”? Remember when the word “Learjet” used to mean something?’

‘Who is that bald man in the wheelchair? He looks familiar – do I know him from somewhere?’

‘Is it Philip Johnson?’

‘Philip Johnson died two years ago.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

‘That’s so sad.’

‘Is that Yul Brynner?’

‘It’s someone with cancer.’

‘What’s he doing here?’

‘He’s getting an Angel Flight back to where he lives,’ one of the ground crew says. ‘People donate flights – for those who are basically too sick to travel.’

‘Oh, I don’t think I could ever do that – I couldn’t have a sick person on the plane – I mean, what about the germs?’

‘I don’t normally think of cancer as contagious.’

‘You never know.’ She runs her hand through her hair – which she gels in the morning with Purell – prophylactically.

The group divides; Sally Stubenstock, the society sister of Cindy, and her ‘friend’ Tasha, the yoga instructor, go on their own plane. ‘We want alone time,’ Tasha says.

‘She wants to downward dog me at 10,000 feet,’ Sally says.

‘It’s gross,’ someone whispers.

‘What do you care – they’re not asking you to do it.’

‘Women kiss better than men – it’s a fact.’

‘How would you know?’

‘Because one night Wallis (the weird woman who has a man’s last name for her first name) Wallingford planted one right on me.’

‘Was she drunk?’

‘I don’t think so. It felt very good.’

‘Better than a man?’

She nods. ‘Softer, more thoughtful.’

Cindy Stubenstock puts her fingers in her ears and hums loudly and sings, ‘This is something I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know-oh-o.’

The conversation stops. They climb aboard. The pilot pulls the door closed and locks it. The women take their seats and then take other seats. They move around the cabin until they are comfortable. They put all their fur coats together on one seat.

‘Where are you staying? The Raleigh, the Delano, the Biltmore?’

‘I’m staying at Pinkie and Paulie’s.’

‘Really?’ Cindy asks.

Her friend nods.

‘I’ve never stayed at someone’s house,’ Cindy Stubenstock confesses. ‘How do you do it? When you get there – what do you do – how do you check in?’

‘It’s like going for dinner or cocktails – you knock on the door and hopefully someone answers.’

‘Does someone take your bag? Do you tip them? And what if you can’t sleep – what if you need to get up and walk around? Do you have your own bathroom – I can’t stay anywhere without my own bathroom even with my husband. If you pee, do you flush? What if someone hears you? It just seems so stressful.’

‘When you were growing up, did you ever go on a sleepover?’

‘Just once – I got homesick and my father came and got me – it seemed like the middle of the night but my parents always used to tease me – it was really only about 11 pm.’

‘When I go to someone’s house – I bring a clean sheet,’ another woman chimes in.

‘And remake the bed?’

‘No, I wrap myself in it – do you know how infrequently most blankets are laundered – including hotel blankets – think of the hundreds of people who have used the same blanket.’

‘What’s for dinner tonight?’ someone asks.

‘A big corned-beef sandwich. That’s what I go to Miami for – Wolfie’s. I get sick every time – but I can’t resist. It reminds me of my grandparents – and of my childhood.’

‘I thought you were a vegetarian?’

‘I am.’

‘By the way, whatever happened with that Brice Marden painting you were trying to buy?’

‘It’s still pending – we haven’t completed our interview.’

‘Some of the galleries now have a vetting process – there is a company that will interview potential buyers, about everything from their assets, hobbies and intentions for their collections – and once that’s done – they schedule a home visit.’

‘Exactly, we still need the home visit, but CeeCee has been so busy with the re-do that she won’t let anyone from the gallery into the house.’

‘What are you doing?’

‘We’re going from day to night – swapping all the black paintings for white, we sold the Motherwells and the Stills and now she’s bringing in Ryman, Richter and a Whiteread bookcase.’

‘Sounds great – very relaxing – no color at all.’

‘I heard you bought a Renoir in London.’

‘We had a good year. I like it so much I want to fuck it.’

‘When we got our Rothko – we had sex on the floor in front of it.’

‘Those were the days…’

‘And when we got the Pollock.’

‘Well, you got that really big one.’

‘Fairly big.’

‘The room is so large that it’s all relative.’

‘Do you remember that time we were all on that art tour and they let us touch a few things – Stanley stroked the Birth of Venus and got excited?’

‘Stanley, the seeing-eye horse – or Stanley your husband?’

‘Stanley, the human. He was mortified.’

‘I thought it was cute.’

‘Where is Stanley this weekend?’

‘Stan, the man, is playing golf and Stanley the seeing-eye horse is having his teeth cleaned this weekend and so the society gave me a stick.’ She holds up a white cane. ‘Like this is going to do me any good. I’ve got a docent meeting me for the fair – a young curator.’

‘God, I remember when Stanley, the horse, tried to mount the stuffed pony that your parents sent your son…’

‘We were all there – the Hanukah party.’

‘It plagued my son – the sight of Stanley trying to “hop” the pony. He said hop – instead of hump – it was soo sweet.’

‘There are people who are into that – stuffed animals. “Plushies” they call them.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘Sex parties!’

‘And they invite stuffed animals?’

‘Speaking of animal behaviour – are we preparing for takeoff yet?’

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Stubenstock,’ the pilot says. ‘There’s military aircraft in the area – and the airspace has been closed down.’

‘Oh now, is the President coming to town again? Thank God we’re leaving – he always blocks traffic.’

‘We’re third in line for takeoff as soon as the air opens.’

‘We usually fly on Larry’s plane, he redecorates it for every flight. Different art work depending on where we’re going. Something for LA, something for Basel, something for Venice.’

‘That’s because he’s trying to sell you something.’

‘No, I don’t think so. We always ask, and he tells us that whatever it is we want – it’s not for sale.’

‘That’s how he does it – that’s how he gets you.’

‘Did you hear about Sarah and Steve’s Warhol worries?’

‘No, what?’

‘Turns out their Warhols aren’t Warhols – they’re knockoffs like cheap Louis Vuittons on Canal Street.’

‘But they have Polaroids of Andy signing the pictures. Andy and Steve standing together while Andy signed them.’

‘Apparently he would sign anything, but that didn’t mean that he made it.’

‘They were banking on those pictures – literally.’

‘Well, you know what they say – you should never be dependent on your art collection to do anything for you that you can’t do for yourself.’

‘Are you invited to the VIP party?’

‘The VIP parties aren’t the good parties – there are no invites for the real parties, you just have to know where they are.’

‘I told Susie that I would go to the dinner but only as long as I didn’t have to sit next to an artist – I never know what to say to them.’

‘I always ask them if they’re starving – and they never get it,’ Cindy says. ‘I’ve noticed that most of the younger artists are carnivores. Remember when artists only ate things like sprouts and bags of “greens” that they carried with them? Now they all eat meat – it’s all post-Damien.’

‘Like how?’

‘Don’t you remember – Damien Hirst’s first big piece was really very small… It was a piece of steak that his father had choken on. Young Damien gave his father the Heimlich maneuver and the steak came flying out of his mouth and he could breathe again. Damien saved the piece of steak and put it in a jar of formaldehyde that he got from the school and called it I Saved My Father’s Life – Now What Will Become of Us.

‘I never heard that story.’

Cindy Stubenstock shrugs. ‘It’s famous. I think the piece is in the Saatchi collection in London.

A M Homes,1961

Cindy Stubenstock, in, The Book of Other People, 2007 (Zadie Smith, Editor)

Image: Lisa Yuskavage