So, I was talking with several of my artworld clients and acquaintances when one of them, Moll E, a concept artiste and massage therapist, mentioned a frame she had in mind for a painting. The frame would be a life-size — excuse me, larger than life — rendering of her vagina. She would pose for it, of course, to be faithful to her vision. The “painting” would not need to be done since “…every sentient creature knows of these repressions.” If anything, the absence of an actual painting would, she thought, make the piece even more poignant. She was looking for a “man’s inhumanity to woman” vibe, and I’m sure she’ll get giant vaginas full of money and attention. She is my gallery’s most important asset, so I was interested, of course, but I had my own epiphany that night at the cocktail party, and it changed my fortunes.
I asked her, “What do you intend to call the piece?”
“’Life,’” she responded. “Of course.” She gave me her “you’re incurably male” look number 3.
“Of course.” If memory served me, this would be “Life” #57, although she refused to number them, since numbers were the opposite of art. “I’m an artist, not an accountant,” she would explain when I broached the subject. She had two accountants.
What came to me, this one time, as must come to all my artistes so frequently — and how do they withstand it? — was the crying need for a frame that was the entirety of the artwork. No need to call it anything — “Life” was already taken, more than once, and an actual title would compromise the integrity of the piece.
I kept my inspiration and my vision secret for two months, until the piece was complete and ready for showing. The main difficulty was with the frame for my work, which I only resolved when I found the perfect one on sale at PriceMart. I opted for an unornamented varnished light brown rectangular frame just because.
I had timed the opening for when Moll E would be visiting her mother in the Midwest, but I underestimated the enmity between them — I’m not sure how — so the visit fell through, and Moll was able to be there, “to be supportive.”
She was other than supportive.
“How could you?”
“Life,” I told her, “has its… coincidences.’
“How about if I rip your coincidence out through your fucking throat?”
“Darling, the art world is quite large. Surely there is room enough for more than one… vision.”
She snorted. “And what, Darling, is the difference between your ‘vision’ and mine?”
I smiled, secure, and extended my hand toward the frame. “There’s no vagina.”
She could say nothing.
After two decades of standing behind my artists and seeing them dance in the flames of recognition, it felt… appropriate to stand there myself. I had earned it by my loyalty, my perseverance, and my vision. My artists looked at me with a new-found respect and envy, as did my former fellow dealers. I actually gave two interviews. One patron of several other artists told me that he would keep an eye on my work, and looked forward to supporting me if my next piece delivered on the promise of this one. I thanked him as obsequiously as I could while despair pooled inside of me.
I had no other vision coming, and I knew it. I had emptied my artistic quiver in this one shot, and would enjoy the results of that for as long as I could. That turned out to be two weeks.
A young man from Chicago named Albrecht Meister (right) staked out an empty space of wall in a gallery three blocks away from mine, and proclaimed that he had created the final piece of concept art. I rushed over as soon as I heard, studied it closely, and could find no flaws. It was cheeky. It was impenetrable. It had the right balance of audacity and banality, of humor and utter seriousness of purpose. Why deny it? It was a masterpiece. He called it, “My Life.”
Still, I was not (I thought) without my ripostes. Truth be told, fame was almost as boring as anonymity, but it was my fame, and I would give it up grudgingly, if at all.
I chose what I thought to be the proper moment to sidle up to Albrecht while a couple of industry reporters were fawning close by, and asked him in something of a stage whisper, “How do you hang it?”
So brief was my feeling of triumph before he turned to me, his eyes alight, and stage-whispered right back, “You don’t.”
I could say nothing. I heard the reporters tittering like teenage mice as I moved away — I did not quite stagger, and was glad of that. I left the gallery and moved zombie-like and empty back toward my old life, knowing that sometime soon, I would hear Moll E’s malevolent cackle of triumph. I would withstand it. What else could I do?
The night outside hovered between mist and rain, and gusts of wind spat it in my face. I thought of what day tomorrow was, and understood that I would have one thing to be thankful for on that dreary common holiday: I was done with the creative side of art. I realized, as I waited for the light to turn green, that one brush with creation was as much as I could take. I would go back to being a midwife to the dreams of others. It was easier on the nerves.
A comforting thought came to me as I crossed the street: one day, quite possibly soon, Albrecht would stand, despairing, before another’s masterpiece, and blurt out, “Where do you… I mean… hang it?”
“There’s no wall,” would come the reply.
Albrecht could say nothing.
JBMulligan has had more than 1000 poems and stories in various magazines over the past 40 years, and has had two chapbooks published: The Stations of the Cross and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, as well as 2 e-books, The City of Now and Then, and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation). He has appeared in several anthologies, among them: Inside/Out: A Gathering Of Poets; The Irreal Reader; and multiple volumes of Reflections on a Blue Planet.