First, let me apologize for the redundant headline. The “art world” is nothing so much as a vast balloon filled with hot air.
Now then. Seems as though NPR darling and sane member of his brood, Alec Baldwin, is engaged in a hissing match with a couple of NYC art world big shots these days. Acc’d’g to a story in today’s New York Times, he bought a painting done by a guy named Ross Bleckner from a revered gallery owner named Mary Boone for just a shade under $200,000. The names Bleckner and Boone may not mean much to you and me — not as much as Ben & Jerry or, more locally, Pizzo and Anspaugh — but in the rarified airs of the big dough painting and sculpting rackets, B&B are big. Big, big, big.
Baldwin considers himself a patron of the arts and proves it by unbelting huge amounts of cash for works of art and speaking everywhere he can about our holy land’s cultural heritage, yadda yadda.
Fine. It turns out Baldwin had a woody for one of Bleckner’s pieces. He even carried a photo of it in his personal man-bag, next to pix of his daddy-o and his daughter. He set his then-pal, gallery-owner Mary Boone, on a mission to buy the painting from the collector who owned it. (Or, more accurately, owns it, as we shall see.) Boone contacted the collector but the guy was not eager to sell. She later told Baldwin she stood on her head and finally got the collector to sell for a cool $190,000, which, presumably, Baldwin had in his wallet at the time.
So Baldwin took possession of the painting, something called “Sea and Mirror,” and had it hung in his palatial Manhattan office. Baldwin, though, started sniffing something rotten. He says the paint smelled new. Also, the colors and composition were just askew enough to make him wonder if perhaps the painting was not “Sea and Mirror” at all but a fake.
Sea And Mirror
Well, sort of a fake. Nobody denies that Bleckner dabbed his brushes on the canvass. Only that it was actually a different painting he’d been working on at the time he was producing S&M. Baldwin began to believe his old pal, Mary Boone, hadn’t stood on her head enough and, therefore, had never pried “Sea and Mirror” away from the collector. So, panicky, she instructed Bleckner, whom she represents, to jazz around with the second painting and make it look passably like the first. She then brokered the “sale” between Baldwin and the collector.
Baldwin makes a few convincing points that Boone tried to pass Painting #2 off as the real deal. He, of course, would never pay a couple hundred thou for that smudge and smear job. The very idea!
Boone, through her atty’s, says Baldwin should have known all along the painting he bought wasn’t “Sea and Mirror.”
The actor cried to the Manhattan prosecutor who told him there really wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Boone. Nevertheless, Baldwin and Boone now are no-invite-ems to the toniest soirees in NYC. Heck, if confronted with one another, they may engage in the cat fight of the year. Reminds me of that old National Lampoon bit about a dust-up between Gore Vidal and Truman Capote. Vidal, apparently, suffered a torn hankie and Capote a bent hat brim.
Not Yet, Mary
I bring all this up because I’ve spent a lot of time around artists in my day. I was even a member of the subversive Ever-So-Secret Order of the Lampreys, a Chicago artists gang, back in the late 1990s and early ’00s. Here’s what I know: Tons and tons of really talented painters, sculptors, woodworkers, documentarians, and other producers of “the useless object” (a term coined by a Logan Square artist I’d known back in the 1980s) make tons and tons of beautiful, ugly, compelling, worthwhile art every day all around the nation. All around the world, for that matter.
Most of these artists — hell, 99.9 percent of them — live under the most modest, hand-to-mouth conditions. A hundred and ninety thousand bucks to most of them would constitute some five to ten years of total income including bartending and waitron-ing tips and quasi- to illegal tricks on the side.
The “starving artist” stereotype is real. Too real.
But, here you have these scant few artists and the business parasites who attach selves to them, bandying about six- and seven-figure offers for this or that wall-hanging. And swells like Baldwin support them, fooling themselves that they’re advancing the nation’s cultural interests.
Here’s how a well-paid harlequin like Baldwin could advance America’s artistic endeavors: Take the next two hundred thousand bucks you want to piss away on “great” art and spread it around to, say, ten or twenty starving artists. Baldwin could bounce from gallery to gallery on any given First Friday opening in the fall and ID countless deserving talents. I guarantee a windfall of $19,000 or even $9,500 would be a life highlight for any of the millions of hard-working painters, sculptors, etc. It would even spur her or him on to create many more compelling works, what with being freed, temporarily, from the crushing worry of where the next goddamned dollar is coming from.
Ah, but why should Alec Baldwin listen to me? He’s the one with the palatial Manhattan office and I’m just a subversive.
Then again, he owns a “fake.” I don’t.