The Art Scene

In the Posh Gallery, New York City, a man in his mid-thirties studied a piece on the wall. One of the Wall Street nouveau-riche, he looked to diversify his portfolio into art. The gallery owner approached and stood beside him.

“A very good piece, don’t you think?” the owner commented. “A. Non-Y-Mous is one of our most popular artists.”

“Just what is it?” Nouveau-riche shared a confused look with Mr. Gallery.

“Oh, it is his latest.”

“But what is that thing. I mean, do you call it a thingamajig.”

“Actually it’s called ‘A Whatchamacallit’.” Gallery was proud to represent one of the up-and-comers of the current art scene. “It’s only one million dollars.”

“You mean you actually expect someone to pay a million bucks for that?”

“Oh, it was one hundred grand three days ago. The artist’s name is rising that fast. Much faster than Andy Warhol in his prime.”

The tailored suit was impressed but not impressed enough to bite the offer handed him. “Well, it looks like a piece of shit to me.”

“No, sir. ‘Piece of Shit’ was A.Non-Y-Mous’ previous work. It sold for two million at auction.”

Nouveau shook his head. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “And I thought Wall Street was one big scam.”

Gallery ignored the scam comment.”I can almost guarantee it will be up to four million by the end of the year.”

The Wall Streeter frowned. “This-this whatchamacallit looks like something I saw down the street.”

“That is why it is such an important work. It captures the essence of contemporary society. It has such panache. Yet it doesn’t force itself upon you with its dash of élan. Don’t you think?”

“I’m not so sure. When I think of art, I think Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso.”

The owner waved away the thought. “Oh, sir, they are so passé. So démodé. So vieux jeu. No, this artist is so, how shall we say it. So current. One of the advanced cohort of a coming revolution in art.”

“You say one million?” The man was beginning to bite the bait.

“Yes, sir. And I can assure you the piece will impress your colleagues. They will see that you are an up-and-coming collector. You are participating in something unique.”

“I am not so sure my wife will like it. Her snooty Ivy League friends are hard to impress.”

Gallery patiently instructed, “Oh, they will be very impressed. They will see you for the man of taste you are. And the benefit of this piece? It will fit in with any décor. Just look at the colors.”

“You think so?” Mr. Potential Customer took a deep breath. “I would like to get in with that Fifth Avenue crowd she travels with.”

“Then this is just the thing. It is small enough to fit into the elevator of your apartment building but large enough to impress.”

The Wall Streeter decided. “Well, I suppose if one must, one must. I will take it. Can you have it delivered?”

“Yes, sir. Would tomorrow afternoon be good?”

“It will.” The buyer paid for the piece. “It’s for my wife’s birthday, you know.”

“She is indeed a fortunate woman to have such a discriminating husband.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.”

“Believe me, she will love the piece. The wives always do.”

“I hope you are right.”

The Wall Streeter walked out of the gallery, shaking his head and muttering, “Still looks like a piece of shit to me.”

The owner uncrossed his fingers and said under his breath, “P. T. was right. There is one born every minute.” Then he started to hum, “Another one bites the dust.”

An overheard conversation

Recently I was in a local museum, walking from painting to painting. There was a couple ahead of me admiring the paintings.

“I will tell you, Carla. The woman does not look happy,” the man said.

“But, George, that’s cause she’s dead,” Carla said, then pinched her friend.

“Ouch! Why did you do that?”

Carla laughed. “Checking to see if you’re alive.”

“I’m alive? Of course, I’m alive,” George objected.

“You wouldn’t be happy if you were dead either.”

He stuck his tongue out at her, then said, “Then I wouldn’t have to put up with you.”

Carla puckered her lips. “Give us a kiss.” Her lips came close to George. He tried to move away. “C’mon. Give us a kiss, then I can bite that tongue off.”

He backed away from her. “You’d do that.”

“Course I would cause you’re such a downer.”

They took one final look at the Roman matriarch, then moved on.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Final Portrait

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Movie is “Final Portrait” (2017):

With some artists, I need an In to appreciate their work. “Final Portrait” was the In I needed to access the amazing work of the Swiss Alberto Giacometti, one of the great artists of the twentieth century. He was as important to the art world as many of his contemporaries including Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Dali and Henry Moore. He was a sculptor, a painter, a printmaker.

At the end of his career, he had abandoned all art movements and focused on creating something original. Influenced by existentialism, he stripped down his sculptures and portraits to what would seem to be the essence of the subject.

“Final Portrait” is based on A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, a writer who made the art world his subject. Director Stanley Tucci gives us a few weeks in the artist’s life in 1964, close to the end of his life. During those weeks, James Lord (Armie Hammer) sits for the artist for a portrait. Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush)i tells Lord that it will only take two or three days. The process turns into weeks and what seems to be an eternity for Lord. A painful eternity.

It is a gray world, the studio of Giacometti. Only Caroline, the prostitute and Giacometti’s muse, brings color into his world. As the project continues, James Lord gets to see Giacometti create. Geoffrey Rush is always good. No matter the part. Whether it be David Helfgott in “Shine,” Sir Francis Walsingham in “Elizabeth,” Javert in “Les Miserables,” Harry in “Tailor of Panama,” The Maquis de Sade in “Quills,” or Lionel Logue in “The King’s Speech,” his work as an actor is superb. As Alberto Giacometti, he gives one of the best performances of the films I have seen him in.

Lord also gets to know Giacometti’s brother and closest friend, Diego, played by Tony Shalhoub. I have enjoyed Shalhoub’s work since I first saw him as the Italian cabdriver, Antonio Scarpacci, in the series “Wings”. Later he was the hypochondriatic detective Adrian Monk in “Monk”. At first, I didn’t recognize Shalhoub. His quietness seems to make him fade into the scenery. Shalhoub makes us realize how essential Diego was to his brother.

Giacometti’s long suffering wife, Annette, is played by Sylvie Testud and Clemance Poesy is Caroline, Giacometti’s prostitute muse. Both actresses are French and new to American audiences. And both are wonderful as the two closest women in Giacometti’s life.

Usually biopics are a chronological narrative of the subject. What he did when he was a kid. What got her started on her road to greatness. But the movies seem to leave something out. Something that is the essence of the subject. Something that reveals the inner light that makes the subject worthy of so much attention.

By concentrating on a short time, Stanley Tucci has given us the Giacometti’s life. He has brought insights into the artist’s creative process: the struggle, the perfectionism, the desire never to settle, the focus, the concentration. By choosing those few weeks in 1964, Tucci has given us what may be easily called a great biopic.

Near 500 words: The gift no one wanted

Dean loved cameras. The expensive ones. The cheap ones. The in-between ones. The smart phone cameras. There wasn’t a camera he didn’t like. When he found an antique camera he didn’t own, it made his day. He was like a kid in a candy store when he went into a camera shop. The salesman handed him the camera and he turned it this way and then that way. He looked through its lens, then he checked out its heft. Then he scanned the room with its viewfinder. Next he tried the focus. All this trial and error could take an hour or more. But the salesman knew he was in the presence of a true professional.

Since he was five years old, cameras were Dean’s life. He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t have a camera in his hand. He took pictures of everything. You name it, he had taken it. War zones. The poor and the rich. Refugees. Presidents and politicans. Runway models and fashionistas. City streets and country roads. People from all walks of life. He especially loved getting someone working in his frame.

He was seventy when he took to teaching a photography class. It was a new phase of his life, something he never expected. Just when he thought of retiring and cataloguing all his photographs, suddenly there was this new thing that excited him. To show others a love of the thing he loved.

On the first day of class, he had his class grab their cameras and follow him. He took them to the dingiest ugliest kind of place and then said, “Shoot.” They spent a half day there. Then they returned to the classroom and he asked, “What did you learn today?” No one raised their hand. All he said in response to their response was “Um hmm.”

The next time the class met Dean took them to another dingy ugly spot. After a morning there, they went back to the classroom. “What did you learn?” he asked. Nada was the answer. He cancelled the following class one morning with a note, “Go shoot some pictures.”

The next class Dean walked into the classroom. “Okay,” he said. “Who took pictures?”

They all raised their hands.

“Let’s see them.”

Each of the twenty students showed him their shots. They were all selfies.

Dean shook his head, then said, “Go home. Get a job. But don’t take pictures. You’re not worthy.”

Then he walked out of the room, walked over to the Department Head’s office and resigned.

“Dean,” the department head wanted to know. “Why are you quitting?”

Dean shook his head, then said, “I’ve got some pictures to take and I don’t have time for this nonsense.” Then he was gone.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Artist: Charlotte Salmon, Painter

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. In honor of Hanukkah 2017, this week’s Spotlight is the artist, Charlotte Salmon:

It is the Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. And I have chosen the Jewish artist, Charlotte Salmon, as a Spotlight. She is a reminder that in the darkness, light can shine. And boy, did her light shine.

Despite the tragedies in her life and her family, Charlotte Salmon is an inspiration. Many in her family committed suicide. Her grandfather sexually abused her. She lived during one of the worst periods in human history, the Holocaust.

For quite some time, she had walked the tightrope between suicide and life. At the suggestion of a friend, she began painting and chose life. From 1941 to 1943, she let her creativity shine. She spoke out against the terror in the only way she knew how. She painted 769 works. Then she was sent to Auschwitz where she and her unborn child were gassed to death.

Overcoming the great suffering, and in the midst of the death in her life, she brought great beauty into the world.