A Night At A Modern Art Gallery
an excerpt from Running From The Taxman, A Great American Road Trip
May 28, 2013
I wish I could have walked with you through the gallery last night. You were in my thoughts, however, and I will recollect for you in this letter each of the pieces as I remember them. Located in the basement of the coffeehouse, the gallery, adorned in whitewashed walls with light oak flooring, was electric with energy and colorful life. The exhibit was laid out on the four windowless walls of the large basement, with the reception and live performances, both theatrical and musical, in the center. This particular night was dedicated to “modern art of social importance,” as the program read. Upon entering the room, one was first met with a large cube about eight feet wide with each panel made of stretched canvas dangling from the ceiling. Each panel was about four feet tall, so the cube hung about four feet down from the ceiling. The artist chose red, blue, yellow and white. Each canvas was joined together with a solid black border. It was very reminiscent of a Mondrian. Suspended from each side was a sheet of corresponding colored beads, which hung from the bottom of the cube and stretched to the floor, creating a room walled in beads under the cube. The sheets were created in strands of beads, easily parted. The floor directly under the cube was tiled in each of the colors, each a different size and bordered in thin black strips of metal—flush with the floor, of course. The beads were dense enough to give anyone inside privacy, but transparent enough to broadcast the occupant’s shadows to those outside. Two patrons took advantage of this and danced a salsa off and on throughout the night, in between the scheduled live performances. It was a wonderful treat.
Along the wall immediately to the left of the cube, which, by the way, was titled “Big Cube of Various Mediums,” was a collection of broken chairs fused together crudely with small scrap pieces of wood each bolted to the other across a portion of two adjoining chairs. Set in a disarray pattern, the chairs were completely unusable for that which they had been designed. There must have been over twenty of them, some from dining sets, some obvious office furniture; some metal, some wood, and some a little of both. Cloth, leather, and vinyl were represented. All were missing pieces. Titled “Nowhere to Sit,” the work covered a dozen feet of space in front of the wall and climbed about ten feet high. The artist told me she got her inspiration for the piece after a forgettable date with a cowboy who took her to a crowded rodeo performance. “He was cheap,” she recalled. “We sat in the nosebleed section on benches stacked nearly on top of one another. I took a bus home.” I thanked her for sharing as she rolled her eyes still remembering the moment.
The next piece was a wood crate, open at the top, about five feet long and three feet wide. “I CAN’T MAKE UP MY MIND” was filled with an assortment of nearly every art medium imaginable. Parts of metal sculptures, broken wood carvings, unbaked clay, rocks, some gems, half full canisters of powders and paints, used brushes, a dusty saw blade, scribbled upon paper, shattered glass, and partially painted canvases filled the void and reached above the edge of the crate. The entire display was splattered with an array of paint colors.
Adjacent to this work was a Nixon Now campaign poster glued to the door of a 1972 Ford Pinto, which was bolted to a full sized plywood cutout of a 1972 Ford Pinto. The faux car was painted the same pale yellow as the door. The poster was worn with age and covered with gobs of 8-track tape. The artist mounted two real tires on the cutout. They were old, bald, and flat. It was titled “His Presidency.” “I’m not here to comment,” the artist said to a group of us who had stopped at the same time to reflect. “I’ll let the Pinto do that for me.”
In the far left corner of the room was a huge taco framed in two-by-fours and skinned in unpainted drywall. At first it was hard to tell it was a taco, but along the side was scribbled “This is a taco” in English and in Spanish, with a series of arrows pointing from the scribbles extending about six inches in all directions. Inside the taco were bits and pieces of computer parts, unbroken computer screens, keyboards, mice, and various peripherals. A tow hitch attached to the back of a lawnmower was hooked to the front of the taco. The lawnmower had a bicycle rack welded to the frame behind the gas tank on one side. The bike rack sported a leaf blower. A neon sign, very artistically done I might add, hung from two golden chains attached high above. “Punjab Taco Palace” was a study in “international labor movement trends,” according to the poster scribed in calligraphy mounted to the exterior of the work. “Where is the sauce?” asked a member of the small group who had gathered to take in the display. “It’s in your adoration or contempt,” replied the artist. A guy in a black turtleneck sweater sipping a tall glass of Merlot appeared to understand. “I’m not with them,” he said to me as he stepped one foot to the left of where he was in a bodily act of distancing himself from the small group. His long wavy silver hair, slender frame and black slacks married to black loafers were a stark contrast to the apparel of choice the group of flannel-shirted Levi-clad bearded men had chosen to wear this evening.
In the corner was a film treat. “Perspective Value” was broadcast on two propped up screens, the separate projectors worked tirelessly to shine two variations of the same scene in black and white and edited to give the viewer the entire eight hours of original film time in an experience of thirty minutes. “Cutting scenes was easy,” said the producer, “since we just kind of left the hidden camera on all night. We just cut still footage. It didn’t take much thought.” The scene showing on the screen to the left was of a pile of junk strewn out on the street in front of a house in a state of disrepair. A plywood sign that read “FREE,” spray painted in white and as close to the Times New Roman typeface as possible when done by freehand protruded from the junk. It was bound to a thick broomstick by some twine. There were doors, window frames, faucets, light switches and toilets. There were also other things but no one seemed to care. The film caught neighbors dumping their junk into the pile at various late hours, all the way from ten at night until the sun came up at around six in the morning.
The scene showing on the screen to the right was of a pile of junk strewn out on the street in front of a house in a state of disrepair. A plywood sign that read “FOR SALE,” spray-painted in red and as close to the Times New Roman typeface as possible when done by freehand protruded from the junk. It was bound to a thick broomstick by some twine. There were doors, window frames, faucets, light switches and toilets. There were also other things. The film caught neighbors stealing the junk from the pile at various late hours, all the way from ten at night until the sun came up at around six in the morning.
Adjacent to the film was a calming piece, strategically set to help the patrons release stress built up from the prior exhibits, regardless of which side of the gallery they began at. “Green Focus” was a series of eight canvases, eight feet tall and four feet wide, each painted in acrylic with a different shade of green, ranging from mid to light in hue. They formed a half-circle, the floor peppered with Saltillo colored carpets over the stained concrete original to the gallery. “This is where you come to reset,” the artist told me. “My application is commercial, I set my work up mostly at corporate offices. People need one area in their workspace that they can go to and get away from all the blue that social medias and crime shows use these days but still only see one color. We chose green as the best of colors to reset with.”
Clashing with the detoxified atmosphere of the piece was a small area arranged for an audience to sit. Facing the other direction, the chairs pointed toward a carpeted stage where live performers tried out strange studies of human interaction and dance. Mostly a portfolio of contortions, screams, verbal assaults on society, and jokes without basis in reality, this particular scene was too much for me. I have discovered that although I am attracted to the anti-establishment, I realize deep down that those who purport to be members of its community are just that, members of an establishment they set up because they are opposed to establishments. They are only kicking against the wind, as either aisle they are on is opposite to the one they oppose. It goes down like this: When they tire of the side they are on they move to the other side and create a new anti-establishment to oppose the previous anti establishment they were members of until it grew into an establishment.
My attraction to this subject is based solely in my desire to study the erroneous and conflicted approach to the society in which members of the “anti-establishment feed sustenance from. The act of displaying their art, in itself, was a testimony of the anti-establishment’s need to harvest recognition, validation, and money from an established base of members within the anti and from the establishment they abhor. The coffee house that hosts the event derives income from not only the artists who hover over their lattes each morning but from the creature of habit capitalists looking for another caffeine fix.
Attempting to explain my theory to an artist selling her charcoal sketches of money in the booth next to a highly polished metallic plastic ball wall art display, I was met with only a blank stare. “I just wish the IRS would take these as payment,” she said to me.
It occurred to me at that moment that the IRS is the glue that holds society together, for we are all hostage to filing the yearly return, regardless if we are part of mainstream society or just fantasize that we are not. I’m not confusing this with my previous discourse in my letter dated on May 7, 2013 regarding the Christian and the Atheist’s glue, for as you will remember, I explained fully that the glue referenced hence is what holds humanity together. The concussion of the simple requirement to file a 1040 that all Americans are required to fulfill spawns the very fabric of our capitalistic society. Laws, the structured establishment, property ownership, bank and brokerage accounts, interest and dividend income, and even the act of marriage, all naturally form and evolve in a response to allowed deductions on the myriad of forms provided at irs.gov. Those who do not participate in the annual filing are resolved to plunder through life on America’s highways in rides such as a blue 1969 Ford van, getting what they can from needy members of the opposite sex who have just a little more. Society will roll with the world as it turns and moves into the future while the tax evaders sleep through it all in the back of their vans on musty pillows covered in toenail clippings.
Dan and Penny spent the majority of the event in the bus taking in Apollo’s creative and decorative genius. They also took in a few of Fortuna’s cupcakes, freshly baked earlier that same day. They owned an apartment above their business, giving them a place to stumble to at the end of the evening. The cupcakes were served in private, ensuring that no patrons got a hold of one. “I don’t want anyone getting hurt on the way home,” cautioned Penny when she saw the inviting desserts on the refrigerator shelf.
Dan had been an investment banker, and Penny was a bonds trader. They lived in New York for about a decade, in a posh upper Manhattan apartment. They were connoisseurs of art, mostly modern, and of exotic espresso coffees. They enjoyed entertaining artists in their home, but grew tired of all the bickering that artists did over money. “We swam in money all day,” Penny reminisced to me. “We wanted to talk about art with artists, but they wanted to talk about money. Our cohorts who spent their days like us surrounded by nine and ten figure transactions, wanted to talk about art.” She looked out the window of the bus and lovingly at her four level coffee house. “But we hardly ever had time for any of them. So we left.” Dan added to the story, “Now we talk to business people about art over fine coffee and to artists about art over fine coffee. We made it cheap enough so that they can’t complain.” Then Penny summed up their new lives for me, “This is the best of both worlds for us,” she said with a gleam in her eyes.
Fortuna’s piece stood alone in a booth prepared by Apollo. He had called ahead to have the gallery roadies lay down black carpet and hang empty picture frames of various sizes along the booth walls. “We wanted to decorate the gallery display without taking away from the piece, and still leave room for the imagination. Those empty frames can be pictures of Jesus or landscapes, it’s up to you,” Fortuna told an admirer. The woman was short, elderly, bent a little and using a cane, but very vibrant. She shook her cane at the painting, “I’ve been a churchgoer all my life, and all I see in those empty frames are paintings of war scenes.” Fortuna looked pleased.
My masterpiece was in the next booth. It was set on an easel, but I did nothing to prepare the area. I think the easel took away from it just a little, but the message was still clear. The guy with the wavy silver hair got it. “It frees me,” he said, with his hand on his chin. He spent a lot of time looking at my work as he had done with the rest of the pieces in the gallery. He really took it all in. The bent lady with the cane thought it was too white. “Can you do one in tan?” she asked. “Tan would blend better with my furniture. I wouldn’t mind having one in tan just to be different.”
We exchanged information and she gave me a three thousand dollar deposit. She said she would pay the rest of the ten thousand dollar agreed upon purchase price when I delivered her the piece. I hope to find a home improvement store and an artist outlet close by tomorrow where I can purchase the paint and canvas. She wants it cured just like the first, which means that I need to leave it in the drying rack on the back of the bus for at least an hour. I’ll have to acquire my materials in town and create my commissioned piece early in the morning so I can deliver it prior to our leaving Davis. That should not be an issue; it only takes a few moments to paint one color on pre-stretched and wrapped canvas. It’ll be ready for lettering within thirty minutes. The hardest part is getting my signature and date lined up straight at the bottom of the work.
The one art piece that disturbed me the most was a live performance entitled “The Ballad of the Middle Class Male.” Played out by two actors, an overweight, pear shaped male stood front and center of a small stage. Behind and to the left of him was a well dressed and groomed but overweight woman. She had her finger pointed at him and her face was twisted in disgust. A screen was placed at the back of the stage, with text scrolling in a loop. The text was formatted in a series of descriptions separated by commas and broken by short reflection:
Fourteen-hour days, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, do it again five days a week, chores on Saturday, chores on Sunday, fourteen hour days Monday to Friday, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, fourteen-hour days, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, do it again five days a week, chores on Saturday, chores on Sunday, fourteen-hour days Monday to Friday, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, fourteen-hour days, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, do it again five days a week, chores on Saturday, chores on Sunday, fourteen-hour days Monday to Friday, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, fourteen-hour days, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills, do it again five days a week, chores on Saturday, chores on Sunday, fourteen-hour days Monday to Friday, plastic wrapped sandwiches for lunch, fast food on the way home for dinner, late nights paying bills.
The man just stood there staring straight ahead. The woman continued to point and sneer. “He wastes his body away doing the best he can,” the artist tells me. “She wants his youth back, wants him to be what he was before she changed him,” she added. “What did he want?” asked a man in a flannel shirt before I had the chance. “He wanted to do what she wanted,” the artist replied. “A lot of good that did him,” said the same man.
I prepared the majority of my 2009 taxes before the gallery event, so after a little touch up they will be electronically submitted tomorrow, hopefully before we get to Saratoga.
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