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“You can’t afford it.” I knew it was a mistake the second I said it. I was hoping to end the conversation, but at that moment I realized I had extended an invitation, a challenge. Brock was a Hollywood-type, an agent nicknamed ‘Nego’, short for ‘The Negotiator.’ His girlfriend Downee, who sat between us, leaned back in her chair like a referee dancing out of harm’s way at a boxing match. I swear his eyeteeth grew longer and more pointed. The contact-enhanced blue eyes, below Brock’s carefully coiffed eyebrows, turned dead black, like a shark’s. Brock smiled. I gulped, hoping it wasn’t noticeable.
It had been a lovely evening. I was a guest at a Los Angeles arts fundraiser, an elaborate dinner dance designed to raise money for more fundraisers. I was seated between two blondes, one in her early twenties and the other in her early eighties.
The old gal, Maggie, had been a contract player in the Forties and Fifties. She had small parts in some films that allowed her to bed hop with some very big names. The notches in her belt were a source of great pride and many hilarious stories. The provenance of her beloved Picasso is a jaw-dropping tale but I had to swear to secrecy. Earlier in the evening, she had been the ideal dinner seatmate, loud, lively and entertaining. But after two hours of double drinks, dinner, dull speeches and forty milligrams of oxycontin, Maggie was quietly mumbling fond memories into her lap.
Downee, to my right, was an actress who spoke more of celebrity and less of craft. Her role models were actresses who had married well. I like meeting new people and learning new things. Downee was delighted and chatty about her recent vaginal cosmetic surgery. I’ve seen many Labia Majoras before but I just can’t comprehend the criteria for beauty; I always thought it was a matter of good grooming. It’s not like a honkin’ nose or inverted breasts… I was curious to see her before and after pictures but I thought it too rude to ask. I concluded that vaginal beauty must be in the eye of the beholder or in the wallet of the surgeon. Regardless, her boyfriend, agent and surgery sponsor, Brock was quite pleased.
This evening’s event took place six months before the debut of the iPhone and Downee had a Beta version of the revolutionary gadget, a gift from Brock who made it very clear to everyone within an impolite shouting distance that he was extremely well connected.
With the iPhone, we were able to get online and I showed her some of my recent work. When I mentioned that I was in the collection of a certain actress who had married well, Downee took a big fancy to a big, bright painting. She grabbed Brock’s crotch and whispered ‘Two Month Anniversary” into his ear.
There is an intimacy in making art. Often times the physical, emotional and psychic effort is Herculean. How do you price it? What is the value? Forty bucks for the stretcher bars, eight for the canvas and six for the paint? One hundred million for the idea and seven hundred thousand for the execution? How do you price an artwork? You can’t.
That’s why I find great dignity in the beau geste of giving it away.
Brock turned to me and asked, “How much?”
We were sitting outdoors and he was smoking a thin cheroot. With his Italian cowboy boots, I knew he was going for a Clint Eastwood. There was a glint in his eye and I swear the cigar started to grow fatter, longer and more erect.
In the film business, there is a simple caste system called ‘Above and Below The Line.’ The folks who toil ‘Below The Line’ tend to be the salt of the earth with an interesting edge; they actually make the movies.
The swells that live ‘Above The Line’ take credit for it. They adamantly know everything about anything with the greatest of authority. A casual conversation is a fight for ultimate superiority. A simple observation becomes a death match. An opinion draws blood. Hollywood peacocks are the less productive spawn of the Wall Street bond trader; it’s Triple A-Alpha Male.
I lost my taste for sushi in a Japanese restaurant. Once I was sitting within earshot of Michael Ovitz during his last days as a ten-percent titan of Tinseltown. No one knew more about fine art than this talent broker. The blowhard was bragging about an artist that he was backing. It went something like “Handsome face. Top grad school. Good use of color. But we’ll have to cap his teeth.” He spoke of the abstract painter like a horse trader regards a thoroughbred. The agent was dreaming of standing in the Winner’s Circle at the Whitney wearing the garland of good taste and refinement. I haven’t had sushi since.
An artist can only focus on the creation of the art. When you start to think of how much dough, where and with whom the piece may end up, artistic focus can go awry. How does a mother abandon her baby? Only with great difficulty. You’d like to love the collector with the same passion that went into the work.
There was no way in hell I’d be Brock’s bitch.
He was smiling slyly. “How much?” Brock asked. Downee was clapping her fingertips in silent victory.
I replied, “You can’t afford it.”
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