Act 1: Chapter 5- Me and Max, Max and Me

Good question, Lola. What did happen?

Max and me, me and Max: we used to be almost close. We were practically collaborating… But I guess that’s the problem. I guess what happened is that I fell from grace with a few collectors or the press or the auction houses — fuck if I know — and he stopped seeing me as a partner.

I was, for a number of years at least, the very face of contemporary art, my brooding likeness smoldering from the covers of magazines, peering from under a dark brow, a serious artist surrounded by serious glamour — garlanded with the slender arms of models and actors, seated in circles of art world intelligentsia holding up wine to the golden light of a chandelier.

A long time ago, SuperGenius magazine — so very long ago it appeared on paper in real ink print —called me, “the most touted of the epiphanists” , a term they liked to use for a while to describe my work and that of others who were expressing psychological experiments. A sort of play on confessional art or autobio.

Really, though, if I was “most anything” it was nuts, frantic, suicidal. The blogs and zines of the day listed my misadventures in bulleted points, ticking off the dismay, the affronts to decency, the rescues and subsequent dismissals by various galleries.

So. Me and Max. Yes: after my first dealer cut me loose because I and my stoned entourage accidentally set fire to her townhouse, and after the renowned Kate Calvacca dumped me because she could not deal with a scandal involving an underage dancer and a sneaky photographer, and after I had a go at representing myself but wound up involved in all kinds of contractual tangles and lawsuits, and, then, finally, after Mary Bownen had installed me in her basement only to turn around and 911 me into a holding cell (when god knows I was only doing what she’d asked),  Max  Poe stepped up to bat and paid my bail.

That’s how he came into my life. After all the others backed away, Max took me in. And we worked together. And I paid off.

I made money for Max until the neo expressionists were passé and minimalism was outré, and text and confessions and appropriated flotsam were chewed into a flavorless pulp.

When there was nothing left to paint, no reason to think of painting—when form and color made way for the fantastic and the fantastic became repetitive, I think I lost my way.

We watched me fade from the headlines.

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I switched gears then and started my conceptual phase. I was on a new track —I wrote manifestos and denounced painting as invalid in a world that had co-opted the image as a mere consumer product. I sought to educate, I said, ironically, through a medium that would not admit of transparency the way imagery does—language. always already encumbered with pre-conceptions, with language barriers and those of culture, with loaded symbolism and the baggage of centuries of literature.

You can’t own it, is what I said. To which Max rolled his eyes.

The installation which launched my career as a conceptual artist was called “Words, Words, Words”, indeed from the conflicted bard himself; but the piece was simply me, sitting amongst a pile of old manual typewriters and prying with stiffening and bloodied hands at the keys. This, by the way, was only a re-enactment of a solo endeavor of mine, as one evening I truly did, sit alone on a chilly sidewalk outside of Baruch College, and for no art at all save the kind of inspiration which is art itself (the mad hypnotic state I enter when I’m most happy, most at peace) I prized the keys off about a dozen discarded typewriters which had tumbled from their boxes onto the curb. I must have sat quietly twisting and prying at these for several blissful hours. My “Words” piece brought me nearly the same bliss.

But the press did not share my enthusiasm. Not that the work received bad reviews, but only that it provoked more talk about my shift in direction and more speculation about Max Poe galleries than it did about the work itself.

More disappointing than that, though, were the pictures that accompanied the reviews. For some reason, they didn’t excite the way they used to. Sure, they still had me in them, but a somewhat less brilliant me. Was I only imagining this because I’d hit my 44th birthday? Or was it simply that the posed photos, me, arms crossed, let us say, in front of one of my huge, dynamic canvases — maybe those were just — I don’t know: cooler?

And then there was Max, tight lipped, scratching his head.

I think that’s what happened.

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