Teju Cole – Open City, 2012

j brewster jr Francis O watts- Teju cole
John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854. Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

The cluster of taxis at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South broke the illusion. After I had walked another quarter hour, by then thouroughly drenched. I stood under the eaves of a building on Fifty-third Street. When I turned around I saw that I was at the entryway of the American Folk Art Museum. Never having visited before, I went in.

The artifacts on display, most from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—weather vanes, ornaments, quilts, paintings—evoked the agrarian life of the new American country as well as the half-remembered traditions of the old European ones. It was the art of a country that had an aristocracy but did not have the patronage of courts: a simple open-faced, and awkward art. At the landing of the first flight of stairs, I saw an oll portrait of a young girl in a starchy red dress holding a white cat. A dog peeked out from under her chair. The detials were saccherine, but they could not obscure the force and beauty of the painting.

The artists featured in the museum were, in almost every case, working outside the elite tradition. They lacked formal training, but their work had soul. The sense of having wandered into the past was complete once I reached the third floor of the museum. The gallery had a row of slender white columns running through its middle, and the floors were polished cherrywood. These two elements echoed the colonial architecture of the New England and Middle Colonies.

That floor, as well as the one just below it, was given over to a special exhibition of the paintings of John Brewster. Brewster, the son of a New England doctor of the same name, had modest facility, but the scale of the exhibition made it clear that he had been much in demand as an artist. The gallery was quiet and calm and, save for the guard who stood in a corner, I was the only person there. This heightened the feeling of quietness I got from almost all the portraits. The stillness of the people depicted was certainly part of it, as was the sober colour palette of each panel, but there was something more, something harder to define: an air of hermeticism. Each of the portraits was a sealed-away world, visible from without, but impossible to enter. This was truest of Brewster’s many portraits of children, all of them self-possessed in their infantile bodies, and often with whimsical elements in their outfits, but with the faces, without exception, serious, more serious even than those of the adults, a gravity all out of keeping with their tender ages. Each child stood in a doll-like pose, and was brought to life by an incisive gaze. The effect was unsettling. The key, as I found out, was that John Brewster was profoundly deaf, and the same was true of many of the children he portrayed. Some of them were pupils at the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, which had been founded in 1817 as the country’s first school for the deaf. Brewster was enrolled for three years there as an adult student, and it was while he was there that what later became known as American Sign Language was developed.

As I contemplated the silent world before me, I thought of the many romantic ideas attached to blindness. Ideas of unusual sensitivity and genius were evoked by the names of Milton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Borges, Ray Charles; to lose physical sight, it is thought, is to gain second sight. One door closes and another, greater one, opens. Homer’s blindness, many believe, is a kind of spiritual channel, a shortcut to the gifts of memory and of prophecy. When I was a child in Lagos, there was a blind, wandering bard, a man who was held in the greatest awe for his spiritual gifts. When he sang his songs, he left each person with the feeling that, in hearing him, they had somehow touched the numinous, or been touched by it. Once, in a crowded market at Ojuelegba, sometime in the early eighties, I saw him. It was from quite a distance, but I remember (or imagine that I remember) his large yellow eyes, calcified to a grey colour at the pupils, his frightening mien, and the big, dirty mantle he wore. He sang in a plaintive and high-pitched voice, in a deep, proverbial Yoruba that was impossible for me to follow. Afterward, I imagined that I had seen something like an aura around him, a spiritual apartness that moved all his hearers to reach into their purses and put something in the bowl his assistant boy carried around.

Such is the narrative around blindness. Not so with deafness, which, as in the case of one of my many great-uncles, was often seen as merely unfortunate. Many deaf people, it occurred to me just then, were treated as if they were mentally retarded; even the expression “deaf and dumb,” far from being a simple description of a physiological condition, had a pejororative sense.

Standing before Brewster’s portraits, my mind quiet, I saw the paintings as records of a silent transaction between artist and subject. A laden brush, in depositing paint on the panel or canvas, hardly registers a sound, and how great is the peace palpable in those great artists of stillness: Vermeer, Chardin, Hammershǿi. The silence was even more profound, I thought, as I stood alone in that gallery, when the private world of the artist was total in its quietness. Unlike those other painters, Brewster hadn’t resorted to indirect gazes or chiaroscuro to communicate the silence of his world. The faces were well lit and frontal, and yet they were quiet.

I stood at the window on the third floor and looked outside. The air had shifted from grey to dark blue, and afternoon had become late afternoon. One image drew me back in, a painting of a child holding a bird on a blue thread. The palette, as was usual for Brewster, was dominated by muted colours; the two exceptions were the electric blue of the thread, which coursed across the face of the painting like a bolt of electricity, and the child’s black shoes, which were deeper and blacker than almost anything else in the gallery. The bird represented the child’s soul, as it had in Goya’s portrait of the ill-fated three-year-old Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga. The child in the Brewster painting looked out with a serene and ethereal expression from the year 1805. He, unlike many of the others painted by Brewster, had his hearing intact. Was this portrait a talisman against death? One child in three at the time died before the age of twenty. Was it a magical wish that the child would hold on to life, as he held on to the string? Francis O. Watts, the subject of the painting, did live. He entered Harvard at fifteen and became a lawyer, married Caroline Goddard, who was from his hometown of Kennebunkport, Maine, and went on to become president of The Young Men’s Christian Association. He eventually died in 1860, fifty-five years after the portrait was made. But for the moment of the painting, and therefore, for all time, he is a little boy holding a bird by a blue string, clad in a white chemise with a carefully observed lace frill.

Brewster, born some ten years before the Declaration of Independence, lived his life as an itinerant artist, working all his way from Maine to his native Connecticut and to Eastern New York. He was almost ninety when he died. The elite Federalist milieu of his background had given him access to wealthy, serious-minded patrons (his own ancestors had been on the Mayflower in 1620) but his deafness made him an outsider, and his images were imbued with what that long silence had taught him: concentration, the suspension of time, an unobstrusive wit. In a painting titled One Shoe Off, which held me transfixed the moment I came before it, the neatly tied bow of a shoe on a little girl’s right foot echoed the asterisks of the floor pattern. The other shoe was in her hand, and red pentimenti were visible around the heel and the toes of the now unshod left foot. The child, as secure within her own being as were all of Brewster’s children, had an expression that dared the observer to be amused.

I lost all track of time before these images, fell deep into their world, as if all the time between them and me had somehow vanished, so that when the guard came up to me to say the museum was closing, I forgot how to speak and simply looked at him. When I eventually walked down the stairs and out of the museum, it was with the feeling of someone who had returned to the earth from a great distance.

J Brester jr one shoe off - teju cole
John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854.One Shoe Off, 1807. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Teju Cole,1975. Open City, 2012. Chapter 3. Published by Random House, January 17, 2012

Teju Cole, born 1975, is an American writer, photographer, and art historian. Open City is a documentary novel that explores layers of urban history and migrant experience set in post 9/11 New York. The narrative is seen through eyes of Julius, a young Nigerian-German psychiatrist who, in solitary walks, traverses and discovers New York. With the heightened sensitivity of the lone observer he muses on the people and random details of the city. He describes his experiences and encounters in a series of internalised contemplative and reflective emotional states that connect the transient thoughts and physical moments with his own life, and ideas of time and memory. The metaphorical associations of art, music and literature are integral to Julius’ fine-tuned stories of city life as he visits an exhibition of paintings by John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854, at the American Folk Art Museum, and an exhibition of photographs by Martin Munkácsi, 1896-1963, at the International Center of Photography, and makes references to Jan Van Eyck, Paul Claudel, Diego Velázquez in the text.

Images: John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854.  Francis O. Watts with Bird, 1805. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

John Brewster, Jr. 1766-1854. One Shoe Off, 1807. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York

Tom Wolfe -Back to Blood,2012


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:


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.

F Scott Fitzgerald – Tender is the Night,1934


His most interesting case was in the main building. The patient was a woman of thirty who had been in the clinic six months; she was an American painter who had lived long in Paris. They had no very satisfactory history of her. A cousin had happened upon her all mad and gone and after an unsatisfactory interlude at one of the whoopee cures that fringed the city, dedicated largely to tourist victims of drug and drink, he had managed to get her to Switzerland. On her admittance she had been exceptionally pretty — now she was a living agonizing sore. All blood tests had failed to give a positive reaction and the trouble was unsatisfactorily catalogued as nervous eczema. For two months she had lain under it, as imprisoned as in the Iron Maiden. She was coherent, even brilliant, within the limits of her special hallucinations.

She was particularly his patient. During spells of overexcitement he was the only doctor who could “do anything with her.” Several weeks ago, on one of many nights that she had passed in sleepless torture Franz had succeeded in hypnotizing her into a few hours of needed rest, but he had never again succeeded. Hypnosis was a tool that Dick had distrusted and seldom used, for he knew that he could not always summon up the mood in himself — he had once tried it on Nicole and she had scornfully laughed at him.

The woman in room twenty could not see him when he came in — the area about her eyes was too tightly swollen. She spoke in a strong, rich, deep, thrilling voice.

How long will this last? Is it going to be forever?”

It’s not going to be very long now. Doctor Ladislau tells me there are whole areas cleared up.”

If I knew what I had done to deserve this I could accept it with equanimity.”

It isn’t wise to be mystical about it — we recognize it as a nervous phenomenon. It’s related to the blush — when you were a girl, did you blush easily?”

She lay with her face turned to the ceiling.

I have found nothing to blush for since I cut my wisdom teeth.”

Haven’t you committed your share of petty sins and mistakes?”

I have nothing to reproach myself with.”

You’re very fortunate.”

The woman thought a moment; her voice came up through her bandaged face afflicted with subterranean melodies:

I’m sharing the fate of the women of my time who challenged men to battle.”

To your vast surprise it was just like all battles,” he answered, adopting her formal diction.

Just like all battles.” She thought this over. “You pick a set- up, or else win a Pyrrhic victory, or you’re wrecked and ruined — you’re a ghostly echo from a broken wall.”

You are neither wrecked nor ruined,” he told her. “Are you quite sure you’ve been in a real battle?”

Look at me!” she cried furiously.

You’ve suffered, but many women suffered before they mistook themselves for men.” It was becoming an argument and he retreated. “In any case you mustn’t confuse a single failure with a final defeat.”

She sneered. “Beautiful words,” and the phrase transpiring up through the crust of pain humbled him.

We would like to go into the true reasons that brought you here —” he began but she interrupted.

I am here as a symbol of something. I thought perhaps you would know what it was.”

You are sick,” he said mechanically.

Then what was it I had almost found?”

A greater sickness.”

That’s all?”

That’s all.” With disgust he heard himself lying, but here and now the vastness of the subject could only be compressed into a lie. “Outside of that there’s only confusion and chaos. I won’t lecture to you — we have too acute a realization of your physical suffering. But it’s only by meeting the problems of every day, no matter how trifling and boring they seem, that you can make things drop back into place again. After that — perhaps you’ll be able again to examine —”

He had slowed up to avoid the inevitable end of his thought: “— the frontiers of consciousness.” The frontiers that artists must explore were not for her, ever. She was fine-spun, inbred — eventually she might find rest in some quiet mysticism. Exploration was for those with a measure of peasant blood, those with big thighs and thick ankles who could take punishment as they took bread and salt, on every inch of flesh and spirit.

Not for you, he almost said. It’s too tough a game for you.

Yet in the awful majesty of her pain he went out to her unreservedly, almost sexually. He wanted to gather her up in his arms, as he so often had Nicole, and cherish even her mistakes, so deeply were they part of her. The orange light through the drawn blind, the sarcophagus of her figure on the bed, the spot of face, the voice searching the vacuity of her illness and finding only remote abstractions.

As he arose the tears fled lava-like into her bandages.

That is for something,” she whispered. “Something must come out of it.”

He stooped and kissed her forehead.

We must all try to be good,” he said.

F Scott Fitzgerald,1896-1940.   Tender is the Night,1934, Chapter 39

Image: Zelda Fitzgerald,1900-1948. Chrysanthemums, watercolour, 15 3/4 x 11 ½“

Image: Zelda Fitzgerald,1900-1948. Zelda Sayre surrounded by flowers while in ballet costume, representing “Polly” in “Les Mysterieuses” Ball, Montgomery, 1919

Don DeLillo – Baader-Meinhof, 2002


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.”


Nathanael West – The Day of the Locust, 1939


An ambulance siren screamed in the street. Its wailing moan started the crowd moving again and Tod was carried along in a slow, steady push. He closed his eyes and tried to protect his throbbing leg. This time, when the movement ended, he found himself with his back to the theatre wall. He kept his eyes closed and stood on his good leg. After what seemed like hours, the pack began to loosen and move again with a churning motion. It gathered momentum and rushed. He rode it until he was slammed against the base of an iron rail which fenced the driveway of the theatre from the street. He had the wind knocked out of him by the impact, but managed to cling to the rail. He held on desperately, fighting to keep from being sucked back. A woman caught him around the waist and tried to hang on. She was sobbing rhythmically. Tod felt his fingers slipping from the rail and kicked backwards as hard as he could. The woman let go.

Despite the agony in his leg, he was able to think clearly about his picture, “The Burning of Los Angeles.” After his quarrel with Faye, he had worked on it continually to escape tormenting himself, and the way to it in his mind had become almost automatic.

As he stood on his good leg, clinging desperately to the iron rail, he could see all the rough charcoal strokes with which he had blocked it out on the big canvas. Across the top, parallel with the frame, he had drawn the burning city, a great bonfire of architectural styles, ranging from Egyptian to Cape Cod colonial. Through the center, winding from left to right, was a long hill street and down it, spilling into the middle foreground, came the mob carrying baseball bats and torches. For the faces of its members, he was using the innumerable sketches he had made of the people who come to California to die; the cultists of all sorts, economic as well as religious, the wave, airplane, funeral and preview watchers–all those poor devils who can only be stirred by the promise of miracles and then only to violence. A super “Dr. Know-All Pierce-All” had made the necessary promise and they were marching behind his banner in a great united front of screwballs and screw-boxes to purify the land. No longer bored, they sang and danced joyously in the red light of the flames.

In the lower foreground, men and women fled wildly before the vanguard of the crusading mob. Among them were Faye, Harry, Homer, Claude and himself. Faye ran proudly, throwing her knees high. Harry stumbled along behind her, holding on to his beloved derby hat with both hands. Homer seemed to be falling out of the canvas, his face half-asleep, his big hands clawing the air in anguished pantomime. Claude turned his head as he ran to thumb his nose at his pursuers. Tod himself picked up a small stone to throw before continuing his flight.

He had almost forgotten both his leg and his predicament, and to make his escape still more complete he stood on a chair and worked at the flames in an upper corner of the canvas, modeling the tongues of fire so that they licked even more avidly at a corinthian column that held up the palmleaf roof of a nutburger stand.

He had finished one flame and was starting on another when he was brought back by someone shouting in his ear. He opened his eyes and saw a policeman trying to reach him from behind the rail to which he was clinging. He let go with his left hand and raised his arm. The policeman caught him by the wrist, but couldn’t lift him. Tod was afraid to let go until another man came to aid the policeman and caught him by the back of his jacket. He let go of the rail and they hauled him up and over it.

When they saw that he couldn’t stand, they let him down easily to the ground. He was in the theatre driveway. On the curb next to him sat a woman crying into her skirt. Along the wall were groups of other disheveled people. At the end of the driveway was an ambulance. A policeman asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital. He shook his head no. He then offered him a lift home. Tod had the presence of mind to give Claude’s address.

He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into a police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.

Nathanael West, 1903-1940 The Day of the Locust, 1939. Chapter 27

The main character, Tod Hackett, works as a costume designer and background scenic artist in Hollywood, but aspires to be an artist. The Day of the Locust creates an apocalyptic sense of the self-destructive temporality of life and humanity in the film world of Hollywood. The fantastic and grotesque images in the novel relate to Romanesque paintings by Goya and Daumier but also of certain Italian artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, of Salvator Rosa, Francesco Guardi and Monsu Desiderio, the painters of Decay and Mystery.” Chapter 18. The book ends with a riot at a movie premiere which merges religious imagery of the Last Judgement with his heroic cinema screen scale painting ‘The Burning of Los Angeles’. The painting is a symbol of the malaise of Hollywood. ‘In ‘The Burning of Los Angeles’ Faye is the naked girl in the left foreground being chased by the group of men and women who have separated from the main body of the mob. One of the women is about to hurl a rock at her to bring her down. She is running with her eyes closed and a strange half-smile on her lips. Despite the dreamy repose of her face, her body is straining to hurl her along at top speed. The only explanation for this contrast is that she is enjoying the release that wild flight gives in much the same way that a game bird must when, after hiding for several tense minutes, it bursts from cover in complete, unthinking panic. Chapter 13.

Image: James Ensor,1860-1949, ‘Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889′, 1888. Oil on canvas, 252.7 × 430.5 cm. J.Paul Getty Museum, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels. The painting was an inspiration for Nathanael West’s imaginary painting The Burning of Los Angeles‘.

Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Blithedale Romance,1852


Picture 025

At my first entrance, old Moodie was not there. The more patiently to await him, I lighted a cigar, and establishing myself in a corner, took a quiet, and, by sympathy, a boozy kind of pleasure in the customary life that was going forward. The saloon was fitted up with a good deal of taste. There were pictures on the walls, and among them an oil-painting of a beefsteak, with such an admirable show of juicy tenderness, that the beholder sighed to think it merely visionary, and incapable of ever being put upon a gridiron. Another work of high art was the lifelike representation of a noble sirloin; another, the hindquarters of a deer, retaining the hoofs and tawny fur; another, the head and shoulders of a salmon; and, still more exquisitely finished, a brace of canvasback ducks, in which the mottled feathers were depicted with the accuracy of a daguerreotype. Some very hungry painter, I suppose, had wrought these subjects of still-life, heightening his imagination with his appetite, and earning, it is to be hoped, the privilege of a daily dinner off whichever of his pictorial viands he liked best.

Then there was a fine old cheese, in which you could almost discern the mites; and some sardines, on a small plate, very richly done, and looking as if oozy with the oil in which they had been smothered. All these things were so perfectly imitated, that you seemed to have the genuine article before you, and yet with an indescribable, ideal charm; it took away the grossness from what was fleshiest and fattest, and thus helped the life of man, even in its earthliest relations, to appear rich and noble, as well as warm, cheerful, and substantial. There were pictures, too, of gallant revellers, those of the old time, Flemish, apparently, with doublets and slashed sleeves, drinking their wine out of fantastic, long-stemmed glasses; quaffing joyously, quaffing forever, with inaudible laughter and song; while the champagne bubbled immortally against their moustaches, or the purple tide of Burgundy ran inexhaustibly down their throats.

But, in an obscure corner of the saloon, there was a little picture excellently done, moreover of a ragged, bloated, New England toper, stretched out on a bench, in the heavy, apoplectic sleep of drunkenness. The death-in-life was too well portrayed. You smelt the fumy liquor that had brought on this syncope. Your only comfort lay in the forced reflection, that, real as he looked, the poor caitiff was but imaginary, a bit of painted canvas, whom no delirium tremens, nor so much as a retributive headache, awaited, on the morrow.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864. The Blithedale. Romance,1852. Chapter XXI. An Old Acquaintance

Hawthorne lived from April to November 1841 at Brook Farm, Massachusetts, a utopian community, which lasted from 1841-1847. His observations of Brook Farm in the romantic tale of The Blithedale Romance are told through the narrator Miles Coverdale. In the novel’s preface, Hawthorne recalls his time at the commune as “essentially a daydream, and yet a fact” which he employs as “an available foothold between fiction and reality.” The paintings described in the saloon as the imaginings of “Some very hungry painter”, present a “lifelike representation of a noble sirloin. . . the head and shoulders of a salmon . . . a brace of canvasback ducks, in which the mottled feathers were depicted with the accuracy of a daguerreotype”. They are notable for their realism, rooted in European realist painting and Dutch genre painting. Henry James described the novel as “the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest” of Hawthorne’s “unhumorous fictions”.

Image: Anonymous, British School, Folk Painting, 1830s. Still Life of Fish,  19th Century

Frank Norris – Vandover and the Brute,1894-5 pub.1914


Then an immense and overwhelming terror seized upon him. Was there nothing, then–nothing left which he could lay hold of to save him? He knew that he could not deliver himself by his own exertions. Religion could not help him, he had killed his father, estranged the girl he might have loved, outraged the world, and at a single breath blighted the fine innate purity of his early years. It was as if he had entered into his life in the world as into some vast labyrinth, wandering on aimlessly, flinging from him one by one the threads, the clues, that might have led him again to a safe exit, going down deeper and deeper until, when near the centre, he had suddenly felt the presence of the brute, had heard its loathsome muttering growl, had at last seen it far down at the end of a passage, dimly and in a dark shadow; terrified, he had started back, looking wildly about for any avenue of escape, searching with frantic haste and eagerness for any one of those clues he had so carelessly cast from him, realizing that without such guidance he would inevitably tend down again to that fatal central place where the brute had its lair.

There was nothing, nothing. He clearly saw the fate toward which he was hurrying; it was not too late to save himself if he only could find help, but he could find no help. His terror increased almost to hysteria. It was one of those dreadful moments that men sometimes undergo that must be met alone, and that when past, remain in the memory for all time; a glimpse far down into the springs and wheels of life; a glimpse that does not come often lest the reason brought to the edge of the fearful gulf should grow dizzy at the sight, and reeling, topple headlong.

But suddenly Vandover rose to his feet, the tears came to his eyes, and with a long breath he exclaimed: “Thank God for it!” He grew calmer in a moment, the crisis had passed, he had found a clue beneath his groping fingers.

He had remembered his art, turning to it instinctively as he always did when greatly moved. This was the one good thing that yet survived. It was the strongest side of him; it would be the last to go; he felt it there yet. It was the one thing that could save him.

The thought had come to him so suddenly and with such marvellous clearness that in his present exalted state of mind it filled him with a vague sense of awe, it seemed like a manifestation, a writing on the wall. Might it not be some sort of miracle? He had heard of men reforming their lives, transformed almost in an instant, and had scoffed at the idea. But might it not be true, after all? What was this wonderful thing that had happened to him? Was this less strange than a miracle? Less divine?

The following day Vandover rented a studio. It was the lofty room with hardwood floors and the immense north light in that suite which he had rejected when looking for rooms on the former occasion. He gave notice to the clerk in the apartment house where his quarters were situated that he intended to vacate after the first of the month. Charming as he had found these rooms, he gave up, with scarcely a regret, the idea of living in them any longer. In a month it would be summer and he would be on his way to Paris.

But so great was his desire for work now, so eager was he to start the “Last Enemy,” so strong was the new energy that shook him, that Vandover could not wait until summer to begin work again. He grudged everything now that kept him away from his easel.

He disappeared from the sight of his ordinary companions; he did not even seek the society of Geary or of young Haight. All the sketches he had made for the “Last Enemy,” together with his easel and his disused palette, his colour-box, tubes, brushes and all the other materials and tools for his work, he caused to be transferred to the new studio. Besides this he had the stretcher made, best twill canvas on a frame four feet long, two and a half feet high. This was for the large sketch of the picture. But the finished work he calculated would demand an eight by five stretcher.

He did not think of decorating the room, of putting any ornaments about the wall. He was too serious, too much in earnest now to think of that. The studio was not to be his lounging place, but his workshop. His art was work with him now, hard, serious work. It was above all work that he needed to set him right again, regular work, steady, earnest work, not the dilettante fancy of an amateur content with making pretty things.

Never in his life had Vandover been so happy. He came and went continually between his rooms, his studio, and his art dealers, tramping grandly about the city, whistling to himself, strong, elated, filled with energy, vigour, ambition. At times his mind was full of thankfulness at this deliverance at the eleventh hour; at times it was busy with the details of the picture, its composition, its colour scheme. The main effects he wanted to produce were isolation and intense heat, the shadows on the sand would be blue, the horizon line high on the canvas, the sky would be light in tone, almost white near the earth.

The morning when he first began to work was charming. His new studio was in the top floor of a five-story building, and on arriving there, breathless from his long climb up the stairs, Vandover threw open the window and gazed out and down upon the city spread out below him, enjoying the view a moment before settling to his work.

A little later the trades would be blowing strong and brisk from the ocean, driving steadily through the Golden Gate, filling the city with a taint of salt; but at present the air was calm, touched with a certain nimbleness, a sparkling effervescence, invigourating, exhilarating.

It was early in the forenoon, not yet past nine o’clock, and the mist that gathers over the city just before dawn was steaming off under the sun, very thin and delicate, turning all distant objects a flat tone of pale blue. Over the roofs of the houses he could catch a glimpse of the distant mountains, faint purple masses against the pale edge of the sky, rimming the horizon round with a fillet of delicate colour. But any larger view was barred by a huge frame house with a slated mansard roof, directly opposite him across the street, a residence house, one of the few in the neighbourhood. It had been newly painted white and showed brave and gay against the dark blue of the sky and the ruddy greens of the great garden in which it stood. Vandover from his window could from time to time catch the smell of eucalyptus trees coming to him in long aromatic breaths mingled with the odour of wet grass and fresh paint. Somewhere he heard a hummingbird singing, a tiny tweedling thread of song, while farther off two roosters were crowing back and forth at each other with strained and raucous trumpet calls.

Vandover turned back to his work. Under the huge north light was the easel, and clamped upon it the stretcher, blank, and untouched. The very sight of the heavy cream-white twill was an inspiration. Already Vandover saw a great picture upon it; a great wave of emotion suddenly welled up within him and he cried with enthusiasm:

“By God! it is in moods like this that chef d’oeuvres are made.”

Around the baseboard of the room were a row of esquisses for the picture, on small landscape-stretchers, mere blotches of colour laid on with the palette knife and large brushes, almost unintelligible to any one but Vandover. He selected two or three of these and fastened them to the easel above the big stretcher where he could have them continually in his eye. He lit his pipe, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and standing before the easel, began to sharpen a stick of charcoal with an old razor, drawing the blade toward him so as to keep the point of the stick from breaking. Then at last with a deep breath of satisfaction he began blocking in the first large construction lines of his picture.

It was one o’clock before he knew it. He went downtown and had a hasty lunch, jealous of every moment that was not spent on his picture. The sight of it as he re-entered the room sent a thrill all over him; he was succeeding better than he could have expected, doing better than he thought he would. He felt sure that now he should do good work; every stage of the picture’s progress was an inspiration for the next one. At this time the figures had only been “placed,” broadly sketched in large lines, “blocked in” as he called it. The next step was the second drawing, much more finished.

He rapped the stretcher sharply with his knuckles; it responded sonorously like a drumhead, the vibration shaking the charcoal from the tracings, filling the air with a fine dust. The outlines grew faint, just perceptible enough to guide him in the second more detailed drawing.

He brought his stick of charcoal to a very fine edge and set to work carefully. In a moment he stopped and, with his chamois cloth, dusted out what he had drawn. He had made a false start, he began but could not recall how the lines should run, his fingers were willing enough; in his imagination he saw just how the outlines should be, but somehow he could not make his hand interpret what was in his head. Some third medium through which the one used to act upon the other was sluggish, dull; worse than that, it seemed to be absent. “Well,” he muttered, “can’t I make this come out right?” Then he tried more carefully. His imagination saw the picture clearer, his hand moved with more assurance, but the two seemed to act independently of each other. The forms he made on the canvas were no adequate reflection of those in his brain; some third delicate and subtle faculty that coordinated the other two and that called forth a sure and instant response to the dictates of his mind, was lacking. The lines on his canvas were those of a child just learning to draw; one saw for what they were intended, but they were crude, they had no life, no meaning. The very thing that would have made them intelligible, interpretive, that would have made them art, was absent. A third, a fourth, and a fifth time Vandover made the attempt. It was useless. He knew that it was not because his hand lacked cunning on account of long disuse; such a thing, in spite of popular belief, never happened to artists–a good artist might abandon his work for five years, ten years–and take it up again precisely where he had laid it down with no loss of technical skill. No, this thing seemed more subtle, so subtle that at first he could hardly grasp it. But suddenly a great fear came upon him, a momentary return of that wild hysterical terror from which he believed he had forever escaped.

“Is it gone?” he cried out. “Is it gone from me? My art? Steady,” he went on, passing his hand over his face with a reassuring smile; “steady, old man, this won’t do, again–and so soon! It won’t do for you to get scared twice like that. This is just nervousness, you are overexcited. Pshaw! What’s the matter with me? Let’s get to work.”

Still another time he dusted out what he had done and recommenced, concentrating all his attention with a tremendous effort of the will. Grotesque and meaningless shapes, the mocking caricatures of those he saw in his fancy, grew under his charcoal, while slowly, slowly, a queer, numb feeling came in his head, like a rising fog, and the touch of that unreasoning terror returned, this time stronger, more persistent, more tenacious than before.

Vandover nerved himself against it, not daring to give in, fearing to allow himself to see what this really meant. He passed one hand over his cheek and along the side of his head, the fingers dancing. “Hum!” he muttered, looking vaguely about him, “this is bad. I mustn’t let this get the better of me now. I’ll knock off for to-day, take a little rest, begin again to-morrow.”

In ten minutes he was back at his easel again. His charcoal wandered, tracing empty lines on his canvas, the strange numbness grew again in his head. All the objects in the range of his eyes seemed to move back and stand on the same plane. He became a little dizzy.

“It’s the tobacco,” he exclaimed. “That pipe always was too strong.” He turned away to the open window, feeling an irresistible need of distraction, of amusement, and he remained there resting on his elbows, listening and looking, trying to be interested.

Frank Norris, 1870-1902.  Vandover and the Brute, 1894/5, published 1914. Chapter 14

The novel follows the life of Vandover as an art student and his increasingly degenerate lifestyle and circumstances as his personality disintegrates and finds a desparate outlet through an obsessive creation of art. In Chapter 5, his idea for a masterpiece  “The Last Enemy” is presented:  “Some time before there had come to him the idea for a great picture. It was to be his first masterpiece, his salon picture when he should get to Paris. A British cavalryman and his horse, both dying of thirst and wounds, were to be lost on a Soudanese desert, and in the middle distance on a ridge of sand a lion should be drawing in upon them, crouched on his belly, his tail stiff, his lower jaw hanging. The melodrama of the old English “Home Book of Art” still influenced Vandover. He was in love with this idea for a picture and had determined to call it “The Last Enemy.” The effects he wished to produce were isolation and intense heat; as to the soldier, he was as yet undecided whether to represent him facing death resignedly, calmly, or grasping the barrel of his useless rifle, determined to fight to the last.”

Virginia Faulkner – Princess Tulip Murphy, My Hey-Day, or The Crack-up of the International Set,1940


Twice I picked up donkeys under the impression that they were dogs, and one of the times the dear little beast was hitched to a cart! This innocent contretemps provided the inspiration for Pablo Paolo Pali’s prize-winning painting: ‘There Are More Ways of Choking a Cat than by Swallowing It with Butter, Horatio.”

Pali would paint only when someone was watching him, so we took turns, changing every four hours. He has a curious technique all his own which requires that he stands about three yards away from the canvas while he works – his paint brushes are at least ten feet long – and he prefers to do eight or nine pictures at once. To save time he has built a small turntable on which he stands, and as it resolves at the required speed he slaps paint on each canvas in the circuit. You would think this might be confusing, and as a matter of fact, it is, but Pali says he does his best work when he is confused. His greatest success, the monumental “Thanks for Those Few Nuts: Part II,” was one of a batch of twenty he whipped up on a rainy wash-day.

Pali does all his own washing and ironing; it is a regular hobby with him – like gardening or stamp-collecting. His flat on the Avenue Carnot is crammed with all types of washing-machines and mangles although he seldom uses them as he believes one gets better results by hand. His most valued possession is a set of twelve matching electric irons, each a different size, with white-jade handles and his monogram in seed pearls. The surest way to win a smile from the Master is to compliment him on his snowy undervests and daintily pleated shirt bosoms. He also likes to keep his hands in water when he is not painting, and has a rubber muff which he fills and takes with him everywhere. . . . . Incidentally, the glowing quality which is so admired in Pali’s oils is obtained by smearing the finished picture with good quality butterscotch sauce slightly thinned down with Flit – on account of flies.

Chapter 8. I Explore the Past.


Pali, as was his wont when he was upset, took out his box of pet streptococci germs – from which he had derived the theory of the “streptococcic” school of painting — and began to groom them, calling each by their name. Then he replaced them in the box, which was constructed like a kaleidoscope, mixed them up thoroughly, and peered at them through the little glass window. “Exquise!” he murmured, hastily sketching on his cuff the pattern they had formed. Again and again he repeated the whole process until his cuffs were black with sketches and the streptococci were pale with fatigue.

“For god’s sake, Pali!” I screamed when I could bear it no longer, “stop playing with those germs! You’re driving me bats! Bats, I tell you!”

Chapter 9. I Lose the Garden of Eden.

Virginia Faulkner,1913-1980 – Princess Tulip Murphy, as told to Virginia Faulkner My Hey-Day, or The Crack-up of the International Set,1940. Published by Duell, Sloan, New York, 1940

The faux-memoirs of Princess Tulip Murphy, as told to Virginia Faulkner, and her humorous observations of the idle butterfly lives of stray characters entrapped in 1930s European society. Described by one critic as ‘superior froth’, it includes a satirical description of M. Pablo Paolo Pali, the distinguished artist and leader of the new ‘streptococcic’ school of painting whose compositions are entitled, ‘Thanks for Those Few Nuts: Part II’, and ‘There Are More Ways of Choking a Cat Than By Swallowing It With Butter, Horatio’. The narrative relates the activities of the Quinsy Expedition, in search of the exact site of the Garden of Eden, led by Dekko Quinsy, and includes Major R.S.V.P. Splinterset of the 14th Poona Pistols; Lady Crystal Scum, younger daughter of the dowager Marchioness of Ambergris; and Miss Filly Monty-Eylet, formerly woman billiard champion of Middlesex.

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

Lynd Ward – God’s Man,1929

lynd ward -a novel without words

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Lynd Ward, 1905–1985     God’s Man, A Novel in Woodcuts, 1929

Gods’ Man is a graphic or wordless novel with a Faustian allegorical narrative about a poor young artist who meets a masked stranger and barters his soul for a magic paintbrush. He achieves worldly success but is disillusioned by the moral corruption of money. God’s Man consists of 139 black and white woodblock prints and was important influence in the production of artists’ books, selling 20,000 copies in the first four years of publication. While in Germany during 1927, Ward discovered the graphic novels of Frans Masereel, The Sun, 1919, and Otto Nückel, Destiny, 1926 and was influenced by the European printmaking of Hogarth, Calot, Daumier, Goya, Kollwitz and Dürer.