Straight out of NYU and I land a professorship at SUNY Binghamton, a frigid, self-important little college way upstate, far FAR away from the civilization I’d known all my life in Brooklyn. I’m teaching philosophy there for three years. Three fun-filled years of lectures and papers and grades and colloquia — and snow up to your arsehole for eight out of 12 months. No culture: only parties and bars. The film department. The co-op. The student goddam newspaper. Tedium? My god.
One mid-winter day I created my first piece of art when I carefully spray-painted my entire office a brilliant, searing, orange from ceiling, to floor. Oh, but not just the room — the desk and the potted plants also, and my tweedy old chair, the grimy computer, the dusty curtains, and even the slender florescent light fixtures — oh, and the books as well — all and every book which lined the walls or sat on my desk or leaned against the chilly windowsill where the wind whistled under it’s gluey little binding.
And when I emerged, stepping backward through the newly oranged threshold, after hours of backbreaking labor that went on throughout the night, I closed the door, tacked a note to it, and left.
The note said: Toot-a Loo.
Two weeks in New York City and I meet Max Poe in an underground bar on Mott Street called Double Happiness where I’m sitting with a rather nasty glass of red wine, considering next steps.
He looks impatient. Sits solidly, rocks glass in his fist, head turning toward the door every few minutes.
He’s waiting for his “star” artist to show but thinks he’s been stood up. Typical, he says, waving his empty glass wearily at the bartender.
It’s an uneven relationship these days: the artists, he tells me, they expect the dealer to make all the connections, to take care of business, but they don’t want anything to do with the market, they don’t want to hear about collectors or — did they expect him to keep doing all the work while they goofed off? And he’s knocking back the whisky with a big square hand.
I like him. I tell him I’m an artist myself.
Great, he laughs. He’s pleased to meet me. He’s Max Poe. (The big hand proffered.)
I get the impression I’m supposed to know who he is, but I don’t. I’m just a smart ass who’s read a lot of philosophy, digs literature and has a healthy, passing, lay interest in the arts — all of them equally. I mean, like this: I know from Manet and Monet, you know. Dutifully respect Picasso. Love Mondrian. I have imagined that Marcel Duchamp was a fun guy. But I don’t know any who’s who. Don’t know what’s new until it gets a write up in the Times. Half of it I don’t get, to be honest. Most of it, actually.
But now I’m an artist: I’m Peter Monday, I tell him.
A group of loud girls come in and start asking about the wine. I tell them the Pinot is not horrible. It’s what I’m drinking. The bartender gives me a shaming look, smiling: you should have asked me, she says: I’d have recommended something better. I wink and toast. Turn back to Max who’s ignoring us, glowering angrily toward the windy threshold.
— Goddamit, Punch.
I forgot to mention: before I closed the door to my dayglo office, I took a few pictures. I pull my phone loose from the wads of clothing and provisions I’ve been lugging about, and show the photos to Max. I say it’s an installation in a gallery upstate. I make up a name: Gilead.
— These suck. Too bad. You don’t have slides?
— No. Not. Not, ahem, yet.
— Too bad. Can’t do much with these. What do you call this?
— Hah: giving the finger to the corporate life: it’s beige-ness.
— Nah: I just love orange.
Poe says I should come by his office and see him. Bring some decent slides or pictures. I will, I assure him.
I carried his card for about two months before I gave him a call, the corners growing soft and fat in my pocket. Meantime I worked on a series of fake “installations” — bits of unrealized art, as I’ve come to call them, which, by the magic of digital imagery, became all but realized.
By the time I had a book together, I found it wasn’t so easy to get hold of the big man himself. The number on his card gave me to a steely assistant who proved an impenetrable barricade of stalwart resistance to my sort of impostor. Indeed, I was forced to resort to a ruse, finally, in order to get through. I pretended to think that I was speaking to the man himself as soon as I got on the phone, saying, “Max? Hey: I think we got cut off there buddy!”
The assistant laughed, suddenly warmer, and said oh no I had called the office and didn’t I want Mr. Poe’s mobile? And then I laughed and said I didn’t have it on me he’d called me while I was out running errands.
The next step wasn’t going to be so easy. I asked to meet him out, not at the gallery — a little grease for the wheels. So we met again at Double Happiness, where we retired to a tiny private nook and ordered cognac. Then I confessed.
Poe sat and drank in silence as I told him the real story behind Toot-a-Loo. But he did keep a wry smile on his face. When I finished, he shook his head. Too bad, he said: he’d imagined championing an emerging installation artist.
Then I showed him the book.
— “Unrealized” art. Nice!
— Look, this is: The Venice Biennial Misinformation Booth. You can flip through the pamphlets. Here’s another “shot” of the booth.
— Did you go last year?
— No: I was teaching Medial Ethics up in Binghamton.
— But it’s all so accurate.
— Except not, see: I put the Calvacca Gallery stuff at the Mary Bowen site… I mixed them all around and I misnamed the pieces and assigned the wrong times for screenings.
Poe leaned forward, rubbed his hands together. I showed him a map with everything misnamed, pointing out where the Misinformation Booth was located: at the site of Max Poe Galleries’ show.
— You can go to my website, Quarterly Unrealized Art, or QUA.com and see some all-around views of this one.
— But this is just Boo Dolly’s ‘Cross Cultural Divide.’
— Dialectical Revise: from the other side of the room you get a different perspective.
— Oh my god.
— Exactly: there he is. Tacked up for real (as it were) Over and over again.
— Can you make this happen?
— Of course. Can you?
That was the beginning of my swift internship with Max Poe Galleries. He and I put together some shows that perfectly fit his ideas for what “his roster” was missing. Since then I’ve had two solo exhibits at his Chelsea and East Side galleries and they led to an interview with SuperGenius and even a sit down with Brian Lehr on NPR. And now that new talk show, Panopticon, wants to have me too.
Everyone is, of course, aghast that Max seems to have created me overnight. It’s simply not done, this sort of thing. It breaks every single spoken and unspoken rule. We’re the iconoclastic duo.
So when Max said he’d have PUNCH call me, I believed him.
However it was a few months, I think, before it finally happened. I was beginning to wonder if Max had lost his mojo with this guy. Or maybe he’d exaggerated their relationship. Or maybe ol’ PUNCH was too good for me.
But that’s just how things happen in the real world: everyone moves WAY slower than I do. And they ponder and plan and poke about all serious-like. All such very serious professionals doing very serious work.
When Punch does call, he’s all agro about the fact that I don’t drool all over the phone when I hear that it’s him. I mean at first he’s real brief and cold. So of course I have to fuck with him.
— Hello? Monday? Punch. Max asked me to give you a call.
— Oh yes: guy with the words. Max says he’s made you a star and you repay him with just so much grief. A prodigal son. An ingrate. He does go on!
— Is that what he fucking says? Goddamit, “guy with the words!” Is that what — is that what you think?
— Oh no. No. Certainly not.
— Good —
—Never heard of you.
A lie, of course. I have HEARD of him. He’s all over the place for god sakes. But, honestly, I still don’t know what he does really. Only that Max complains that he’s on this “word thing” lately. Anyway, I can hear him getting angry on the other end:
— Great! So you don’t even know my work. Tell me why, again, is Max so eager to pair us up?
— Look, Punch: I haven’t heard of anybody. Too self absorbed. Too young. Too instantly successful. Untried. Inexperienced. It’s no insult. Believe me; if I had heard of you, it’d be because you’d kicked over one of my pieces at a Christies evening sale.
— Oh yes. I thought Malnick made a fine point. He’s been making those for a decade now and you come along and place knock offs in an installation and they find their way to auction like a year later — totally out all possible mitigating context…!
— Hey! Hey now! How about that?
— How the hell about what?
— We call our collab “mitigating context” and w– hey: we should meet.
— I don’t think so, Monday. I might as well tell you. I just made this call so I could tell Max that I called and he’ll think I kept an open mind. But I didn’t: I really HATE your work. I’m proud to say I couldn’t stoop to it.
— There now, see? We have something in common; we both hate my work. Now let’s have a drink.
— I don’t date the competition.
— Come on, Punch; we could turn the tables on old Max. Have some fun with him. You know you wanna.
— Where’d you hear that? That’s just gossip. And you? You’d do that? Max hasn’t informed you that he’s your paycheck?
— Ha! RaTHER, he has informed me that I am HIS!
(I hear ol PUNCH pouring himself a drinkie.)
—Your charm, I speculate, rests in your unspeakable vanity.
—There’s a lot to be said for mutual admiration.
— Hmmm. Yes. You really up to this? I mean, Max aside.
— Life is boring, Punch: I need stimulation.
— Why the hell does it always sound like you’re talking dirty?
— I’ve a knack. So… let’s try to meet during the week. I’m trying to get some REAL work done this weekend.
— I thought you spurned “real work” — I thought “real work” was for fogies like me.
— True, true… hey— I wanted to catch the LeWitt show on Sunday. Wanna come, see what your peers are up to these days?
— Ha. Ha. Max didn’t tell me you’re such a wit.
— Come on then. Show me that LeWitt isn’t just much ado about nothing. Teeeech meee.
— Sunday it is.