ROY LICHTENSTEIN’S NUDES IN A MIRROR: WE ARE NOT FAKE! • by Nuala Ní­ Chonchúir

We are so glad that Roy isn’t alive to see what’s happened to us because, oh my Lord, he would die.

Yes, we’re comic-strippy — not exactly the Rokeby Venus — but we are of-our-time, same as old Mrs Rokeby. Whoever she was. And, we are not pleased that some weirdoes want to get at us because we are undressed. And that there are fancy-schmanzies who think we’re dumb because we were modelled from models. Hullo, that is how it operates, and our models loved their work and were good at it. How many of you can say that?

I am going to speak for both of us — I’m the forefront figure in Nudes in a Mirror — so I saw what happened a lot clearer than what’s-her-face in the back there. I guess I should begin by saying that we are Americans, so Europe and Austria were all new to us, and I, for one, was nervous about the trip.

But the Bregenz Gallery was a real nice place and the curators took such care hanging us. Our canvas is B-I-G, but they gave us a vast cement wall, prettily spaced from Female Head (one of Roy’s seventies gals). We were more than pleased, hollering back and over to each other when the gallery was empty.

Boy oh boy, then it all changed.

Saturday afternoon, in strolls a perfectly decent-looking woman, with glasses and boring hair. Let’s call her Brigitte. She stands in front of our canvas and I watch her, watching me. Brigitte appreciates our benday dotted skin and my faintly concerned expression as I primp; she acknowledges the artful diagonal slashes that tell her I am looking into a mirror. She is wise enough, I can tell, to appreciate the bubblegum wrapper-ness of Roy’s style, and the madcap border of yellow paint that frames us. Brigitte is a discerning woman; she likes a day out at the gallery. All that is missing is a bench for her to park her ass on, so she can study us in comfort.

Brigitte rootles in her purse; maybe my frosted pink lips have reminded her to reapply her gloss. She glances over her shoulder to where Friedrich, the security guard, is slumped in a chair, carving black crescents from under his nails. Brigitte steps closer to me, clutching her purse in front of her chest, like an external womb.

I am suddenly alert; this kind of furtiveness usually means only one thing: she is going to try to use her camera. Seriously, I don’t mind. Most people become giddy in galleries and want snaps for their photo albums, to show their relatives back home how cultural they are; to show themselves the same thing when they are back in their rut. But the Lichtenstein Foundation don’t want unauthorised pictures of Roy’s pictures here, there and everywhere, if you get me.

Friedrich looks up, rakes his museum-glazed eyes over the patrons, then yawns hugely; he gazes at his fingernails like he’s in love. Brigitte holds the zipper of her purse together, looks over at Friedrich, then turns back to face me. Okay, here goes; she is feeling in her purse again for the camera, her eyes riveted forward. I see this all the time — ‘rigor mortis nonchalance’ I call it; people looking tense when they are trying to be casual.

But, oh my Lord, she suddenly leaps towards me and I see a jack-knife plunge through the air in four sharp shots: slash, slash, slash, slash. This Brigitte is purposeful and mean. Friedrich is on her in seconds, grabbing her arms and screeching, “Nein, nein, nein!” and a man who was admiring Female Head, runs and clutches her by the waist from behind. Brigitte drops the jack-knife and her purse.

“Es ist eine Fälschung! It is a fake!” she hoots, struggling and writhing, trying to get away.

She scratches Friedrich in the face, and he and the man wrestle her to the floor. Brigitte bites the man in the leg, gnashing like a dog. He screams and pulls her off his leg, but he holds her down.

A female security guard grabs Brigitte’s purse and searches it; she pulls out a screwdriver and a can of red spray paint. All the onlookers tut and shake their heads. Friedrich and the man huddle on the floor over Brigitte, pinning her, until two policemen arrive and haul her away.

I look down at my canvas; the wounds are long and threaded, I am cut from boob to belly. A flap of canvas falls forward like a lolling tongue and I wonder if I will ever see the inside of a gallery again.


Born Dublin 1970, Nuala Ní­ Chonchúir lives in Galway, Ireland. Her bilingual poetry collection Tattoo:Tatú (Arlen House, 2007) was shortlisted for the 2008 Strong Award. Her two short fiction collections were also published by Arlen House. She is fiction editor for Southword in 2008; she will represent Ireland at the Tokyo International Poetry Festival in November. She blogs at http://womenrulewriter.blogspot.com/.


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Every Day Fiction

  • I really love this story, there is a deep sadness here, I felt for the non-fakes, and I never thought I would have feelings for a nude in a painting. The lead-up is deceptively simple, the last paragraph is poignant, there is a deeper message here, perhaps, about women attacking women, about misunderstandings, about making art and viewing art. So much in such a short space, just as a great flash story should be.

  • Gerard Demayne

    http://www.iconoduel.org/archives/2005/09/000696_those_kooky_teutons.php

    Something I found about the case.

    Kinda liked the story but half-hearted to be honest. I think this is one of these pieces that just goes over my head.

  • Gerard Demayne

    I think I know what non-plussed me a bit – the story about the chick that chucked herself off the Empire State building attempted to get into her head to find the reason why she’d do it, or at least explore her mindset. I think I would have been more interested in an examination of the mindset of the woman who slashed the paintings, in what is an otherwise fact by fact re-telling of the case with an internal monologue from a smart-arsed painting. While I MIGHT be able to empathise with the crazy woman (god knows I’ve known enough of them) I just don’t care about an over-prised piece of pop art.

  • I enjoyed this, never guessed what Brigitte was upto, really. And I liked that squeeze of ascerbic humour in the story. 🙂

  • Great writing, Nuala and a terrific story. The tone is perfect for a Lichenstein model and you capture his art very well with this: “bubblegum wrapper-ness of Roy’s style”. That final paragraph was just brilliant. You invite the reader to be voyeur and critic, and I like the idea of “art that speaks to you” which you play with so well. I’m going to quote that last paragraph because it’s so damn powerful:

    “I look down at my canvas; the wounds are long and threaded, I am cut from boob to belly. A flap of canvas falls forward like a lolling tongue and I wonder if I will ever see the inside of a gallery again.”

    The image of the lolling tongue is itself so Lichenstein. Brava, and congratulations on your EDF debut. The first of many I hope.

  • Jen

    I loved this story. It just *worked.* Five out of five for me.

  • Thanks for all the comments, guys. You’re so good.

    @Gerard – I wanted to do it from the POV of the painting, though I’d be curious about Brigitte’s true motivation also. Thanks for taking the time.

    It’s all new to me to get ‘live’ comments like this. Very interesting!!

  • Clever point of view choice, terrific voice. Loved it!

  • Thanks Greta, that’s nice to hear!

  • jennifer walmsley

    Loved it. Different view point. Great language.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Another story in the genre of “hateful cosmetic application,” warning all readers of the dangerousness and hatefulness of women who use lipgloss.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I never saw the painting by Lichtenstein “Nudes in a Mirror”, so I don’t know its bearing on the story. Lichtenstein’s work is interesting commentary on contemporary graphics, likeable and decorative, created by a talent absorbed in graphic media. Maybe “Nudes in a Mirror” is commentary on paintings prior, but it’s hard to imagine anyone so bothered by any of it that she would slash the canvas. Just because someone does not choose that style of work, because there are lots of other things to think about beside graphics (lip gloss for example) would hardly be a reason for such rage. The story does not hold my attention in any fundamental way.

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