Portraits & Passages

Chapter 43

casual conversation top copy 22


Rocky and Bullwinkle

This makes me think about a casual observation Knight Landesman offered me at the Chicago Art Fair. He was speaking of the desperation on the faces of dealers  manning their unattended booths with obviously no sales in sight. It’s a pitiless world save for a lucky few. Of course Knight sold pages not art. He knew he had  the better deal. Like the gold rush of 1849, everybody was off to California, but not before someone like Knight sold them a shovel. The guys back in Pittsburgh who manufactured shovels lived in palaces.

But don’t think that Knight is in an enviable position. He works hard to keep the ship he’s on afloat. He has to play Father Knows Best to his crew, and on the  outside show interest and solicitude to all whom he meets of the art world at large for he is the goodwill ambassador of “Artforum”.

The problem is that everybody has a crusade along with a career, and there is only so much space on the editorial pages. Knight has a lot of juggling to do. And so  there is the risk of being thought disingenuous. Well, of course!

Then, along comes someone like me. Now the art world has its full share of wildcard players. That’s for sure. But few shell out a hundred thousand for  advertisement pages. That’s usually the reserve of the big galleries. So when it became clear that I was going to be placing more ads after the three months of  pages surrounding my December 1995 exhibition of “The German Girl Nude” in Barcelona and which continued into the next autumn, Knight extended a warm friendly welcome to meet him at the Berlin and Cologne art fairs.

To get a picture of Knight, think of Rocky, that sprightly, smart, clever fellow who leads Bullwinkle into improbable situations. I’m Bullwinkle, and side-by-side we  make a goofy, oddball sort of hokey team. I suppose I have some missing screws up top, so Knight’s very helpful in finishing my thought. And I’ll set myself up to be  the brunt of a joke just as much as I’ll turn it on someone else.

Most people are so insecure that they can’t deal with buffoonery. The more wildly off the mark my sarcastic observations are; the more people feel threatened and angered.

I have this grave talent for pulling on someone’s hidden secret. It’s an autonomous gene coming out in the worst situations as when I’m nervous if someone is quietly  hiding a dislike towards me. Then, like a detonating fuse set off, I bring that reality to the surface. It’s something I can’t cover. Poof!

Often, however, I scramble my delivery horribly. Back in the days at Carnegie Tech when the Drama department shared the basement corridors with the painters,  Steve Bochco would hiss and sneer at me as I passed by. He was always coming back dark from Florida. So I would let him know that he repelled me just as much.

I remember Charlie Haid, whom Steve cast in “Hill Street Blues”, badmouthing me as we came out of an open rehearsal at The Public Theatre in New York. In his  bullying, high-pitch he almost screamed: “What the fuck are you doing here!” as we exited into the inner lobby framed by my “Joseph in the Pit” and “Jacob in  Mourning”.

I don’t quite understand why I got that kind of treatment, and I got it in spades from those in the art world. Everybody was so arrogant and aggressively dismissive  without any reason. I can understand why women in general felt so put out, but they mistook that as only a gender issue. Everybody was treated as a “boy” or  “girl”. Only the strongest convinced and so won respect, but in truth, it had more to do more with bravura than merit.

None-the-less, I would be the first to admit being vain. Everybody is in the art world, even the ones who, deep down inside, know they are unworthy. Often they  are the worst offenders against those more deserving respect. Bold when plotting together, they have dismantled the legacy that could only be produced by great  talent and even greater insight earned by relentless effort. Without vanity one could not survive the search. Everybody proclaimed it foolishness.

My father would for years hardly speak to me, only: “What are you doing with your life!” He was angry because he knew my mother paid for my health insurance.  Beside himself, he’d continue: “You have to take care of yourself. You’re a man now! If you were the son of a rich man, you could be an artist. But I’m not a rich man!”

He hated it when I spent almost three years in France saying that I should have established myself in New York. Then when I was in New York he tried to get me  to come home. Frantic in his mother hen sort of way, he was fearful for himself as well as me as he saw his retirement investments going flat. So you can see mine is  the same story as many a middleclass son or daughter striving for an elusive dream.



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