I feel terrible writing these words of glory and success when so many of my brothers and sisters in the art world are starving. Just eight months ago, I too was in the despair of economic and psychic depression. Now, just this very afternoon, my accountant called to say that I have to buy a second Bentley, with cash, to take advantage of a new tax break. Life has never been more swell.
Thirteen months ago, the art market tanked. Commissions vanished. My dog was killed in a botched drug deal to pay the rent. Thieves stole the side fenders off my pickup truck, denuding the mighty roarin’ behemoth into a skinny Chihuahua. Worst, a national billboard campaign for Chocolate Frosted Sugar Cereal Bombs looked exactly like the architecturally abstract painting style for which I have become well known and collected. Attorneys do not take cases such as these. There just isn’t any money in it.
Then my gallery said, “Ciao.” It had been about three months since I had paid a visit to my gallerist Jacopo, thinking it best to let the waters calm. For my second show, the Roman wunderkind agreed to lower and tilt the ceiling a quarter inch. The refracted light transformed my paintings beautifully. Unfortunately, no one could have anticipated the hidden electrical costs and a small fire. I was redeemed when my most recent show got stellar reviews. Sadly, critical acclaim does not trump practical concerns. The teeming compost of sculptured animal and vegetable decay created an issue with the Health Department, the EPA and Jacopo’s aversion to the stench of Death.
My gallerist is a favorite of the collector’s wife with limousine service to and from the airport. When I stopped in to say hello, Jacopo was installing a sculpture show. He looked at me with his familiar grin and gestured toward a pile of materials. Acknowledging his kind invitation, I replied by touching my fist to my heart. He waved and followed [famous action star’s wife] into his atelier.
Flattered to be included in the sculpture show, I staked a good spot in the room. Within an hour, I had turned the bucket, mop, ladder and cleansers into a colorful pop pool.
Things can’t get better until they get worse. When my gallerist and client emerged from his private office, Jacopo was stunned to see my contribution to the sculpture show. I misinterpreted his look for joy. It turned out that he had not invited me to participate in the show, but to merely sweep the floor. My gallery had kicked me to the curb.
Today, I am so busy with magazine interviews that I don’t have time to make the damn art for my seven upcoming museum shows and two tours. The schedule is booked until 2017. Jacopo and I are now on a 15-85 split. I am opening a secret studio in China near an orphanage and a prison to bolster international economies, green technologies and produce my collectibles. Vanity Fair has been calling. (I refuse to work with Annie Liebovitz again until she starts attending Debtors Anonymous. She spends like I drink.)
None of this would have happened if I hadn’t met Tony, my new patron. It’s funny---I still don’t even know his last name or have a phone number.
One afternoon, I was meditating in my despair at the Little Joy, a neighborhood watering hole, when Tony introduced himself. He is the southwest curator for the National Endowment of the Contemporary Arts Project. It seems NECAP has been drowning in new TARP funds with a mandate to make art, fast and furious. Tony explained that he was looking to “word-associate” with an artist. This is an old East German curatorial practice where he would speak of a notion, then let the artist build a museum show around the idea. We got along famously. It hadn’t more than twenty minutes and two rounds before he asked, “What’s your schedule for May? I’ve got the second floor of the Hirschhorn available.”
And that is how it all began.
My first show “Cooler Without You” knocked the critics out cold. Never has there been a climate change themed show more warmly received. As a matter of fact, I am just about to ink a deal with one of Al Gore’s subsidiaries that will travel the country on the elementary school circuit. (Now that we are eliminating teaching positions, the big dough is in programming and extracurriculars.)
For a Michael Heizer inspired piece, “Dreamcatcher”, I was influenced by a sketch that my curator Tony had suggested from a dream. To be completed in 2015, the 2,370-acre site outside of Santa Fe is a beehive of bulldozers and engineers. It will be the largest and first federally funded earthwork. I am amazed at how many cousins Tony has.
At the MoMA show where I was exhibiting a series of site drawings, a jealous peer remarked that my labyrinthine maze resembled the foundation of an Indian casino. What an ass. It seems that envy is just one price of my success.
“The Silky Road To Afghanistan” should have been the simplest show in my oeuvre. I wanted to create sixty WPA-styled travel posters, each glamorizing the beauty of an Afghan city as a tourist attraction. After stretching the concept with two of ‘em, I hit a creative dead end. I had hoped Shep Fairey could fill in, but he’s been taken off FAAL, the Federally Approved Artist List.
To kill space, I created a cute little Afghani tour guide cartoon named “Poppy.” If I keep my fingers crossed, Lil’ Poppy might get her own ABC Saturday morning special. “The Silky Road” is a good-looking show and my images on tee shirts, coffee mugs and rugs are exploding out of the museum shops.
An unqualified hit, my curator Tony says the show has won enough hearts and minds to approve the deployment of 150,000 additional troops.
This “Road” was not all silky. Tragedy struck when my intern from CalArts was kidnapped for ransom. I had sent her to photograph all the tourist spots in the desert kingdom. (Hell, I wasn’t about to go. NECAP was throwing a ski junket.) MFA grad Sarah Alison Cia was a smart cookie, but not smart enough to change the last name on her passport. Now I’m in hot water because CalArts wants me to repay the balance of her student loan. We’re still laughing about that one.
My favorite show “Ain’t Heavy” has been the most problematic. I was aiming for something positive, upbeat and unselfish. Unfortunately, the debacle closed within a week and all future exhibitions were cancelled. My idea was that folks would literally carry their brother (or any dependent) around the museum. The number of injuries was catastrophic and the insurance carrier closed the show without delay.
The schedule has me hopping. (Actually, I’m working on a tan at the Four Seasons Dubai but my assistants are keeping their nose to the palette. They were hoppin’ mad and complaining crazy about their 20/7 work schedule and low wages until my curator Tony applied a little labor relations.)
Next up is “Why Johnny Can’t Reed.” It is rumored that Michelle Obama will crack the catalogue and cut the ribbon.
“Pop” is not a survey of the 60’s art movement but a conscientious exploration of the dangers of sugar in soft drinks.
The show that would award me the cover of Artforum has been the most versatile. The centerpiece of the show “Healthy As A Dead Horse” was to be two huge black bellows, a set of Tim Hawkinson-ian lungs that breathe and expand. On the quarter hour, it would cough up swine flu bird feathers. The show was cancelled when the health care debate went South. No worries. Now I’m gonna paint the diseased lungs pretty pink and place it in a new touring show that I just sketched up for Philip Morris titled “Nico-Teen.”
Yes, life has been good, though fraught with worries. No matter how versatile my message, a change in the White House could put a kibosh on my plans for a small retirement island off the coast of Greece. And then there’s Tony. Lately it’s been RICO this and RICO that. I’m not sure if he’s talking about Rico Suave or racketeering charges.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist. His visual and literary works can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com