Portraits & Passages

Chapter 45


Nobody knows I’m a storm, I’m dawn on the mountain, twilight on the town.   -Ikkyo Sojon 

Cross Purposes – Loyalty and Betrayal – And Moving On 

Pam Newhouse had lured me with her father’s world of painting, but then she resented its attraction. A Pisces, she wanted it both ways. She, like her youngest  brother, disdained their father’s attempts at pomp and circumstance. And she would have soon found me a ninny if I couldn’t enter into the analytical web she wove critical of the various social displays of her family.

 The Newhouses were very careful, however, to contain the aspirations of those married into the fledgling dynasty. They quickly put a lid on any agendas or theatrics that would disturb or mar their own standing.

Pam even begrudged her grandmother, Mitzie, who after producing two sons was allowed an easy, pampered life. I had met Mitzie only a few times. The last  occasion took place in the mid 1980’s at Pam and her husband Steve’s west side brownstown where I was invited for the first time for lunch. Pam served me a tuna  fish sandwich while she pulled skin and bone from duck just cooled down and succulent from the oven. I could see and smell it right in front of me as I ate my  sandwich. She explained it was for her father’s visit later on. Her timing was impeccable!

It had been over a decade since I had seen Mitzie, and so when I rose to greet her reintroduced myself saying perhaps she would not remember me. Well! She  assured me definitively that she needed no reminding. She remembered me very well indeed, and gave me a piercingly thorough scrutiny appraising why I should be in the company of her granddaughter at this point in time.

There was no mistake where Pam got that critical look which reminded me years later of the haughty cautious disdain on the profile sketch by David of Marie  Antoinette sitting straight backed and regal on her way to the guilotine.  At her trial it was said that the queen inspired respect from even her prosecutors for her calm  dignity as she was seen as trapped into circumstances not of her doing.

Perhaps that is how I should see Pam, as a victim of all those gold layers of protection that like a sarcophagus was in reality suffocating the joy of her being  unencumbered by the weight of notice. Was that why she ran for cover, and why years before she tested me for proofs of loyalty by keeping me away from attractions at her father’s.

The most significant occasion was when Harold Rosenberg, the critic and early advocate for the abstract expressionists, came for dinner. Pam, in one of her most  alluring appeals, charmed me into what was a delightful time for us alone at one of her father’s favorite restaurants.

But why did we have to escape another boring function at East 70th Street this particular evening. I was being purposefully denied the chance of a very  provocative and engaging dialogue. Pam, I suppose, could sense it, and throughout our dinner would give me a look to see if there was disappointment. She had  promised her father that we would come by later in the evening, which we did, but by then Si was projecting a classic movie as the night’s entertainment that precluded conversation above the trivial.

However, the introduction to the huge physical and psychic presence of Harold Rosenberg, his wife, and the spectral appearance of their obviously retarded  preadolescent daughter, way too big to be dressed up, as if the Infanta Margarita, in lace and taffeta, was a sight beyond expectation. It was beyond belief, like  stepping into Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” – a totally contradictory hallucination where the grotesque of the Hapsburg court entered the minimally sparse precinct of late modernist abstinence.

At least I got a view as that parade made a command performance before the Newhouse court. But I knew that I missed a thought or two that could have been  coaxed from Rosenberg that would have fed my mind for days and weeks to follow.




It had confounded Pam that I had hoped for her father’s approval of my work. She would exclaim: “What difference does it make what my father thinks of your painting. Why should you care!”

A handful of years later, Judd Tully would voice a similar appeal: “Why does it matter what Si Newhouse thinks. He’s just a collector.” And I would have to  explain: “Don’t you see! Every other writer and critic in New York works for Si Newhouse sooner or later or wishes to. His magazines push how glamorous art  and artists and the art world are. And he especially pushes the art he likes and collects. Don’t you understand! He’s not just any collector. He’s top of the art market pyramid. What he buys pulls the whole market upwards.”

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