Around the new year of 2012, I finished reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and it struck me. It was his first novel, written in the 1920s about the expat community he was a part of in Europe. It reminded me so much of my friends and me. I started to write vignettes about fictional characters that reflected the times and the way we lived in them.
The book is unfinished, but in process. I revisited it several times over the years, and I am currently working on it now. Maybe the book will be ready for release in 2022?
I hope you enjoy this excerpt. I may update this page with more in the future.
ESCAPE FROM THE ART WORLD
I woke up at 10:45 AM on the tiny loveseat. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. The opening of “Sleeveless Hearts Untied: Nothing or You or You” was today, and I should have been at the gallery an hour ago.
I jumped into the shower and washed away the drunk, sleep deprived artist in me. Today would be a high heels day. I always overcompensate in fashion when I feel like a train wreck.
I walked into the Polo Contemporary Project Space, and I was simultaneously relieved and disconcerted that the preparators were ahead of schedule in hanging the show. The work was just so goddamn terrible.
Traci Reprieve made horrifying squid-like expressionistic-type paintings. Half were hanging and half were just scattered across the floor. I was glad that the installers had enough art historical context to understand their value.
Charlie DuPont’s lewd photographs of a bloodletting ménage à trois rife with cocaine were completely installed. He died suddenly a month before the show. The photos were thus above criticism and worth quite a lot.
Alex Pintour dropped off some scrap metal to sell as sculpture. I was pretty sure that he went to a junkyard and came straight to the gallery with his finds. A regular old Duchamp that one was. He’d probably make the most money.
I might have been the only one who liked the weird office supply sculptures Gretchen Wolf installed on pedestals throughout the gallery. They were made during stolen time she had at her desk job. Paper clips had never expressed so much before. My favorite piece was a replica of Mary Queen of Scots’ death mask she made with staples and white out. What passionate desperation it must have taken her to construct these pieces so meticulously. Of course, they wouldn’t sell. It was a miracle she was actually in a gallery.
We could all do so much better, I thought, as I walked to my office. I sat in my chair for a moment staring dumb, deaf, and blindly at the computer screen. 10,000 unread emails all blurred into a landscape that was somehow more affective than the art I had to sell.
I opened the top desk drawer and took a shot from the well-loved flask. Whiskey is permissible in moments like these. I stepped back into the gallery and found the intern who was helping the preparators install the show.
“Heather, can you please make us all some coffee? Thank you.”
Painstakingly the hours passed and I did absolutely nothing except vaguely pretend that I was doing very important work. Finally it was 5 PM. I put the red lipstick on, and walked outside to watch the masses pour in.
Art openings are fascinating studies in the various degrees of pretension humans are capable of. Watching the crowd is like watching a perverse National Geographic episode about an obscure cannibalistic tribe that talks in indecipherable language about nothing at all.
You see the ones who are too overdressed for Santa Fe, the artists, curators, and writers who were born here and feel like they have some ownership over our infuriating little art scene, the ones with perfect hair who clearly want to be in New York City but can’t escape. You see the “avant garde,” the ones who wear terrible clothing, because it reflects some misguided sense of individuality they are trying to express in compensation for something.
The art students fall into both categories, but at least they’re usually sincere. To the art world, they are nothing, and the students know it, and they feel it, but they’re still sincere, because the market hasn’t devoured them yet.
And then there are the collectors, those lovely old people with money from somewhere who have various understandings of art, and generally look at paintings, and see mutual funds.
Oh god, do I have to interact with these fuckers?
Thankfully, we were one of the few galleries that still made an effort to have a nice bar at our openings, amidst the draconian crackdowns on alcohol in Santa Fe. Our bar was probably illegal, but we didn’t care. Alcohol helps galleries sell work. It’s as simple as that. At least we didn’t go the tackier routes that some other galleries did. The best worst alcohol situation I ever saw at an opening was jello shots and popcorn. Old ladies were taking jello shots for the first time, preparing themselves to look at the most boring landscapes imaginable. That gallery knew its business model, and we knew ours. We had a fine selection of tequila and a speakeasy warehouse vibe that helped us sell terrible work time and time again.
“I’ll have a margarita.”
Heather was our bartender. She poured me a damn stiff drink. She really was the best intern we ever had. We exploited her unpaid labor to no end, and she was just so cheerful about it. She was still sincere. She made work that was infinitely better than what was hanging in our show.
I sipped my margarita from the corner of the gallery, and watched as people walked in and went straight to the bar. I’ve been convinced for years now that the majority of audiences at openings come only for the free booze and the networking. Granted, there are some who look at the work. I watched some of those types spend way too much time staring at the squid paintings and the scrap metal. They were trying so hard to have aesthetic experiences, to be moved. Good luck with that. I saw the collectors note which pieces were being appreciated. God, I guess I should talk to them.
I walked toward Marnie and Rudolph Blake, the most prolific collectors in Santa Fe. They were ogling the worst of Alex Pintour’s scrap metal.
“It’s exquisite, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Quite.” Rudolph said.
“We read this piece on Alex in Y magazine. He really is Santa Fe’s up and coming artist, isn’t he?” Marnie asked.
“Yes, yes he is. He’s pioneering the new field of post-conceptual abstraction. No ideas, no formalism, just pure experience. Each one of his works is like a Zen koan.”
“We definitely want to purchase a piece or two of his. I really like the look of this one.” Rudolph said.
“Fantastic! I can see this piece complimenting your beautiful collection nicely. Have you seen any of Charlie DuPont’s work? We just lost him from this world, unfortunately. His work is quite edgy. We’re showing the last series he made before he died last month. He was right at the peak of his talent.”
“Oh, how tragic,” Marnie said.
I walked them over to the photographs of the cocaine-riddled bloodletting menage a trois.
“Oh my,” Marnie said.
“Clearly the man was a genius,” Rudolph said. “I think we’d like to purchase all of these.”
“Wow, Charlie would be so happy.”
We all can reach a point in work where there are no ethics anymore. The soul dies a little as we do the things we need to do to earn a paycheck, and words like this come out without any hesitation. The worst behaviors become second nature so fluidly.
I went back to the bar and had another incredibly stiff margarita. I told Heather about my sales, and she congratulated me. I was drunk enough to tell her, “Get out while you can. Don’t you see that this work is awful? That the art market destroys art and the artists who make it? Don’t you want to keep your sincerity? Don’t you think we’ve been exploiting your unpaid labor for too long now?”
“I’m doing this internship for credit,” she said. “I don’t mind it so much. You’re pretty cool most of the time.”
I saw Tara looking at the paper clip sculptures. I walked over to her and said, “You found the only interesting work in the gallery.”
“Of course I did. How in hell are you holding up?”
“I just sold all of Charlie’s photographs and some of Alex’s scrap metal to the Blakes.”
“Damn girl. Good work.”
“Is it good?”
“No, but it can be fun. Loosen up, Lola. Look at this marvelous scene around you.”
I looked around, and I noticed that every person in the room was drunk. Rudolph Blake was talking to two young students who were wearing uncomfortably short dresses. The one twirled her blonde hair, and the other sipped heavily on a martini as Mr. Blake told them about his oh-so-extensive collection.
I saw crisp jackets of every color. Dirt punk and tailored suits mingling by the bar. There were a few New York transplants in the room, and everyone was fawning over them, talking about Brooklyn, and this scene and that neighborhood with audible envy.
I began to feel dizzy. I went back to my office and took a nap underneath my desk.
I was standing on the edge of the cliff in Abiquiu for what had to be aeons. I had jumped off higher cliffs before, but I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed by fear, and I despised myself for it. I knew I wouldn’t die. I knew I wanted to jump off the rock into the cold, rippling water. I was getting sunburned standing so long at the edge. But I couldn’t let go. It was something more than fear that held me. I felt that I was the most pathetic person who ever lived. I felt like this choice meant that I would be stuck and lost all of my life, watching all the possibilities move by, while I was frozen in place.
I heard someone calling my name in the distance. I turned around and the landscape transformed. A long road extended across the desert, passing through a threshold—two inexplicable gray towers that formed a gateway between worlds. In the distance was a mountain I knew I needed to climb. It was a pinnacle on the horizon. The full moon made its snowy peak glow brightly in the distance.
I took a step forward and almost crushed a scorpion with my bare foot. I stood there and watched him walk away. I took another step and heaved a sigh at the path ahead of me. It looked so inviting. It was exactly what I needed, a journey by the light of the full moon. Step by step, I walked through the threshold, watching the mysteries begin to unfold around me. I felt peace and joy in my heart.