Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / Themes / Music & Art /
Everybody thinks of the right thing to say a minute after the tormentor has left; here’s an occasion when I said the perfect thing right on time.
Rainy afternoon on Madison Avenue. I’m sitting in my gallery thinking that the rain has probably squelched any possibilities of business for the day. But then an art gallery doesn’t do business the way a grocery store does business. There you better be selling something every hour if not every minute: five cents here, two dollars there … In the gallery, there’d be days I’d sell one thing, some days three; but more days where I sold nothing. There were whole weeks where I had not one deposit to make. Yet the owners thought I was doing just fine: well enough for them to leave me alone: which was all I wanted in 1974: exhausted from founding FLEX, from a “career” in literature where I could count the number of times I was confident that someone, one person, had understood what I said or wrote on the fingers of one hand.
Door opens. In comes a woman. My cold-read is that I’ve got about as much chance of selling something to her as I have of the Nobel Prize committee calling me up about FLEX (or my Shakespeare reading, or any of a number of things I was still yet to do). But: you never know. Never count anybody out. Don’t discount the rainy day either. My policy was simple: when no one is there, read, think, recuperate; when someone comes, be nice to them: attentive, interested: no matter what they seem to be.
I’d been told, more than once before that day, more than once since, that I was rare on Madison Avenue. Gallery personnel typically hate themselves, hate their job, use it as a cover to pretend to be what they’re not: the owner, some deep artist, some exquisite esthete … and to snub everyone not arriving in a limousine. This gal, a black woman of middle age, no class to her dress, looked like she may have been no stranger to scrubbing floors, was probably just waiting for the bus and just wanted to come in out of the rain. Fine: the gallery is open to the public: look for free (and I’ll be nice for free).
Next door south, the guy kept the door locked: buzzed people in only at his discretion: make an appointment. Next door north, likewise: door locked. The gal there though would get up and answer in person if she felt like it. Why not? paintings there worth up to three quarters of a million dollars. Her boss told me he had to be able to go for months without selling a single item. What the hell, he also owned two hospitals, so he had no trouble eating.
You never know. You never know about the weather, you never know about the person. Frank Fedele told me a story about running a gallery down in the Village, Sixth Avenue: hours till ten PM. Rainy night, he found it very hard to keep the door unlocked at nine fifty-five, no one’s come in all evening … When a guy pulls up in a taxi, says “I just bought a nursing home: have to completely redecorate,” and bought every single framed graphic or painting hanging on the walls.
Unfortunately for me, helpless to do anything, my bosses had stopped offering a commission. I could sell everything or nothing: same stingy inadequate pay check.
My style was to leave the customer alone for a bit: but be ready, alert, if they had a question. Once they’d remained in the gallery for a few minutes, especially if they seemed paused at something, then I would approach, offer conversation: let them lead. Never shove their face in what they seem to be looking at on their own. My salesmanship consisted in information: and coaxing them over the hump of indecision one they seemed perhaps inclined to buy.
I let the woman look at this and that. There’s a Dali on the wall: supposedly a multi-media intaglio: looked to me like it have been stamped by a machine to make it look like an etching after the printing was finished. But I’m not the publisher. I’m not Dali’s rep. Somebody wants to buy it, I’ll sell it to them. There’s the gang of Leroy Neimans, the Rockwells, an Eyvind Earle serigraph … a Bert Stern Marylin Monroe … And the worst Miro affiche I’d ever seen: from Gallery Maeght. Miro was among my favorite artists. Now that Picasso was dead, Matisse already dead, I was happy that Miro was esteemed as the greatest living artist. Who else was even close? No one behind him but Calder. Even Miro’s graphics, multiples, were generally fabulous. What color, form, texture! What balls! Son of a bitch was without inhibition. But this particular poster … yich! The black got in the way of the black. $1,200 framed: you were paying for the signature, and the fancy frame, and $50 for the art (on good paper, a fair-size sheet of rag paper costs at least a buck).
Miro Gallery Maeght affiche
Much cuter than the one I refer to
The gal pauses at the Miro poster. Sticks her chin out. Says,
Now: years before, still a teenager, at the Modern, I’d learned to stop listening to what people said. Two sophisticated-looking guys with French accents: I semi-consciously half-followed them: hoping to learn something. They’re by the Bocchioni. They stroke their goatees. One intones to the other, “It’s …” (Yes, yes? eager Paul) “… abstract,” he concluded. Oh, please. Never again.
So. It’s a rainy afternoon. My cold reading said she was no prospect. As my reading warms I decide, for the first and only time in retail, that I have nothing to lose: I may as well amuse myself: teach something perhaps: though not likely to her. I play straight man:
“Your six year old daughter can paint better than Miro?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Well, don’t just stand here. Run home. Bring her over here. Bring her work. I’ll pay for the taxi, wherever you live: once I see that what you say is true.”
The woman’s dull eyes could no longer meet my gaze. She faltered, looked uncertain.
“That’s an affiche by Joan Miro,” I said. “Everywhere acknowledged as the greatest living artist: now that Picasso is dead. If your daughter is better than the best, I’ll sign her up. I guarantee we’ll make a million dollars by next month.” (Actually, I was quoting some bravura I’d witnessed from Charlie Mingus, certain that no one but me would know it no matter who overheard.)
Defeated. She turned and left.
No bullshit in the rain for this place.
Actually, unusual for me, first time, I bet, there was a little bullshit in what I said. Normally, as said, I did not pretend to be the gallery owner. I didn’t explain to the woman that if she actually did return, no matter what I thought of her daughter’s designs, I’d have to apply for a loan (that no one would qualify me for) to pay for the taxi, let alone come up with an advance. On the other hand, if there was anything to get excited about, I could have called people in who could have paid for the taxi: and come up with an advance.
But of course I didn’t have to worry: she never came back.
Understand: I wasn’t selling out the young. Lots of kids do great art. Really. My son did a drawing at age two that was stellar. Unfortunately, when the plane landed in Luxembourg, we couldn’t find it. Never got a second look. But can they keep it up? Can the kid still paint great at twelve? At eighteen?
Not too often. Though take a look at the painting Picasso did as a young teen: the one that made his father, a professional painter, give up painting for good.
I like Louis Carroll’s childhood poems almost as much as his adult work!
And I’ve seen poems by other kids … Wow. “Pigeons …
Sticking out their bellies like heroes.
Kids can be great artists!
2016 06 26 Just streaming My Kid Could Paint That, child artist Marla, NYS, recent past & present. And I remember a great abstract that my son painting in our presence aboard a flight to Europe. I valued it, protected it; but when we arrived in Luxemburg, it was gone, couldn’t find it for anything. Someone else must also have valued it: and stolen it. Now I gotta remind bk. He was maybe three, maybe four. If he remembers, I’ll report back.