Nor would Katy ever make space for her portrait painted in Warriors Mark in 1968. A very fragile canvas as if recovered from a tomb in Ravenna. It had been painted over a ghost image from a refused commission by a Charlottesville society banker in red cap and hunting costume. Now if ever there was a post-modern painting as palimpsest it was that displaced banker’s inscrutable face scraped down to the threads encaging him in lost time while Katy’s face, boldly brushed, jumped forward into the present mode.
Like so many other friends whose portraits were hidden in closets while they lived amongst the art world, Katy was given a unique totem of herself that could, with the right daring showmanship, have been an asset to her prestige if only she believed it so. But she didn’t! She was like everyone else. She couldn’t separate her private self from her public persona. She didn’t have the discipline or the strength of conviction. Being a New York artist is a performance, and any strong portrait is an emblem of authentic membership. That understanding is the prerequisite of the game. Whatever her feelings were about the portrait should not have come into play.
Katy was always displaying her critique of bourgeois resistance to anything outside the orbit of acceptable taste. Here I had given her an icon of herself bigger than life, and she looked at it askance as if she were a middle class homemaker afraid of her shadow. Consequently, Katy made herself so small. No matter her living cheek and jowl with famous artists, Katy would remain a groupie for she looked to them for approval.
Of course, that’s suggesting that Katy ever had an idea of her own. Her blobs of paint on canvas would have no meaning to anyone if she herself were unsure. And if they had credible truth to her eyes, shouldn’t that be reason enough for making them. For if one can enter one’s own vision and live in its fiction as one’s own recreated reality, then why ask for feedback on one’s paintings as Katy would. Why not invite visitors to see her work, period. One makes oneself small by being small. To live in the epicenter and paint, and then not declare one’s independence before the world is an equivocation. Katy was very good at having it both ways and no way.
Katy would come to my exhibitions at Blue Mountain Gallery and upon taking her leave say with I suppose well intention: “Richard, this is great for a cooperative gallery exhibition” Well, isn’t it great period! Was she judging the work as dependent upon its venue. Why the condition. If it’s great shouldn’t it be seen at MOMA!
On one of those same evening openings, a young hip couple came up to me and said: “What are you doing here. You should be showing at Mary Boone’s along with Schnabel.” And of course I should have. But Katy couldn’t see that. Katy couldn’t see period. She just lived and worked in the art world. In that she fit the rule and not the exception.
If I speak about Katy as someone who sees only what she is granted to see, I do not imply that she may be weak or stupid. On the contrary, she is neither meek not brainless. My observations are about that form of knowledge that isn’t verbal in conception and requires a different order of capabilities that need years of nurturing. One doesn’t snap one’s fingers to become visually acute. Without it how can anyone find comfort in independent opinion. For only the sanctioned views agreed upon by the elite faction gave her clarity of action.
Such was the case in Lincoln Center’s abortive decision to sell its golden Jasper Johns for reasons that had to do with its safety and the enormous cost of insuring a painting worth over ten million dollars. Simply told here, Katy was working in some capacity for that institution and whistle blew on the impending sales transaction.
We should also say that years before Katy made a short documentary film of Jasper in the process of making a silkscreen print for which he gratefully sent her a thank you contribution of, I believe, a thousand dollars. Katy was thrilled to have had access to the master and to have his thanks- a feather in her cap, even though the film showed the redundancy of his repeated layers: the performance being fresher and more satisfying than the resulting print. But who would question his going through the motions.
Of course, she was riding on a star which is a whole easier trip than building your own rocket ship and gambling on it flying. In that, Katy is not guileless or different than the majority of small insider helpers trading on their insignificance to frequent with the real players promoted by the machine of the art market. And I suppose it took a considerable amount of indignation on her part as well as daring to notify the press and loose her job while protecting the enshrined placement of her hero’s painting.
Not that if it were to go for a record bid at auction Jasper would have suffered a decline in his current prices. For that matter, it was very probable that some billionaire would have purchased it for his favorite major museum where it might have been placed to better advantage.
All told, it shows us the vicarious identification and dedication of the groupie. It’s the vital force from which the art world sustains its power. It would be Katy’s red badge of courage.
Now let’s tell another story that suggest a parallel of sorts without the vast prestige of Jasper’s situation, nor ending with his triumphant acclaim, for no one protested when Joe Papp took down my “Joseph in the Pit” and “Jacob in Mourning” from their perches in the lobby of the Public Theatre. No one gave notice; no one wrote a postscript, a note of farewell, no adieu. Nor for the three years they stood their ground as one of the earliest examples of the post-modern sensibility in figurative painting did anyone in the art world think they were worth commenting upon.
Certainly Katy Martin had seen them, but she made no move once they were removed if only to comment on the salient issue that “any art” had been replaced by Papp’s photographs of himself inspecting the first renovation of the old Astor Library that Papp made into the Public Theatre. Here was a political stunt of self -aggrandizement and fundraising prior to the inaugural party for Mayor Ed Koch.
If ever there were a case to consider on its merit, irregardless of its lack of celebrity; here was a story whose consequences beyond its particular details were worth reflecting on for issues of overlapping jurisdiction in the arts.
Furthermore, if one wished to speak about ethical responsibility or lack of it, here was a situation where the moral regard for the artist seemed not to exist to the extent that, by chance and not notification, the artist discovered his paintings carelessly positioned in a storage room atop a pile of haphazard stage material. Fortunately they were not damaged, but how long before they would have been. That the artist, once the works were home safely, considered their three year run a blessing despite the negligent and unceremonious ending, in no way clears the incident from redress.
Herbert Simon had said to me: “The man in power will not risk his prestige except for the most important occasions.” In Katy Martin’s case, she never had standing, but she understood very well the game of how to get it. So she waited strategically for the most exposure to realize the full potential of her gambit. Her calculation understood how little she had to risk and how much notoriety she could garner for herself by pleading Jasper Johns’ victimization. She made it sound that the sky was falling, and the other chickens around concurred.
Obviously for Katy, the only art worth fighting for is the art already validated. That art needed a champion, and Katy Martin would become its hero. There was nothing in it for her to aid some maverick who should be grateful that scraps fell from the Newhouse table and so got to show at the Public Theatre.
So yes, there are those out there whose bravery in the heat of battle is unquestionable as long as they have art history on their side. They are superb in the glory of their steadfastness to duty. We shall be grateful to them eternally, especially now that music lovers will continue to see art that looks like their cigarette lighters while having a drink at intermission.