8/23/2011 High Culture in the Corporate Age
There’s nothing like trying to relate a sad chain of events
in the midst of an outdoor happy hour din. Raymond’s story, even at its more buoyant moments, called
for a dark booth in an abandoned after-hours club, not the strenuous shouting
that passed for conversation at the Cat
and Fiddle. Wendy’s rendition
of fleeing for her life from an enraged lover was more clamorous and better
fitted for the rock-and-roll crowd, but I had been caught split-screening back
to an opening I had attended at the Whitney Biennial and Wendy, having had such
events lorded over her by terminally jealous Barbel, was fascinated to know
what someone else thought of this trendsetting museum exhibit.
Before I could tell her what it was like showing up at the
opening night Biennial VIP Party I had to set the scene since the reason why I
was joining Raymond as his guest to the gala at the Whitney Museum was because
he had recently split up with his latest girlfriend. “His whole women thing,” I said, “was tragic.”
lifted her eyebrow skeptically.
“You think breaking up with a college student who’s lying about boffing
someone else is tragic?”
“The tragedy came later.”
“At the Biennial?”
“No,” I shook my head.
“Tell me about the Biennial,” Wendy prodded.
“It covered a lot of space.”
“The Whitney’s a big museum.”
“I grew up with a more romantic view; cocktails and crowded
rooms, paintings tight against each other on the walls.”
Tell me about the Whitney.”
“It lacked intimacy.”
First off, I explained, you’d imagine that the VIP reception
would either want to dazzle everyone with a glittering chandelier and
monumental Matisse canvases dominating a lobby, or put everyone in a
brick-exposed warehouse with dim atmospheric lighting and a neon bar. Instead, it was held in a long bright white
room in the basement, a non-descript multi-purpose cavern that could have been
used for storage, conference seating, or, in this case, a catered banquet with
linen draped tables set on the cement floor. Raymond and I took a wide elevator down from the lobby with
another twenty people. No one
recognized each other, so it was a very silent ride. When the doors slid open on the brightly lit concrete hollow
smelling of steam-table chateaubriand, our passengers quickly dispersed to the
different drink islands where red and white wine was being dispensed by a
black-bow tied catering staff.
I asked Raymond, “What do we do now?”
“Wine, chateaubriand,” he peered at the dessert table, “maybe
some of that crème Brule, and then go upstairs and check out the art.”
“Aren’t we supposed to mingle?
“You know any of these people?”
“Neither do I.
I told Wendy that if she had a photo of Raymond and I in the
basement she would not have been able to come close to identifying the
event. We could have been clerks
at Chase-Manhattan grabbing some free eats at the dedication of a new bank, or
scholars at the reception for Herman Melville conference at Columbia. The VIP Party was impersonal and expensive,
high culture in the corporate age, and if Raymond was having his tiny moment of
celebrity, a mention in the program about his paintings in the gallery, it
really excluded the necessity for him being there in person. No one was there to welcome him, to
interview him, to escort him through the exhibit. He could have been, like me, a man off the street.
“It was probably better,” I confessed to Wendy, “that
Raymond had no girlfriend to impress.
Wendy gave me a rueful smile. “You’re right, this is beginning to sound tragic.”
“There was some interesting artwork. I remember a dark room with the
recorded sound of a cricket, a painting of tree branch seen through the gun
slit of a bomb-shelter, but most of it was minimalist of the sort where you follow
the scribbling below out-of-focus photographs of someone’s family along four
walls of a room. I was glad to get
out of there,” I admitted.
“Raymond and I found an Irish bar where the whiskey was cheap.”
“No hanging out with the other artists?”
“They all must have run off to be with their agents. Raymond had a French woman (whose last
name was the same as mine!) representing him at an eastside gallery, but she
wasn’t in town.”
“Like I say, maybe I have this romantic view.”
“Or maybe,” Wendy shook her
head, “it just sucked.”