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((Excerpt from "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal))

DRESSED TO KILL

Late last night, a work night, I was flipping through cable channels and landed on what has become one of my favorite films. Right then, I knew that I was going to be up even later. The film was, "Dressed To Kill."

If you like art or even art house films, you know where I'm going with this. First off, it's hard to believe that this Brian DePalma film was released way back in 1980. Someone really should re-make it. (Sharon Stone could do it, but start shooting ... NOW!) All these years later, it holds up, but for dear life. Secondly, Angie Dickinson. She was not 20-something when this film was made, but she was certainly hot enough to pull it off. As we all know, even though her character is killed off early, the film is really about her stardom.

Yet whenever I catch this film in progress on TV, I always think, "Oh, I hope it's toward the beginning!" Which brings me to art (surely you knew it would). Have you ever seen a film that is more complimentary (and complementary) toward art? That sequence where Angie Dickinson's sex-starved character is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is fantastic. I have a tough time deciding what to look at ... Ms. Dickinson or the art in the background. It begins with her staring at an Alex Katz portrait of a woman. That's such a great piece. Then, that creepy guy behind the dark sunglasses shows up, she drops her glove and the cruising for sex begins. By the way, have you noticed how characters in thrillers are always dropping things or falling? What's up with that? I suppose tripping, dropping and falling are the main criteria for victimhood.

Anyway, what makes this part of the film so intriguing are the chase between the two characters, the almost merry-go-round-like camera movement and the suspenseful music. Brian DePalma mixes these elements and creates the very thrill that art itself should invoke in any observer. Yes, that Philip Pearlstein behind Ms. Dickinson is a kick-ass piece! Yes, I love that De Chirico painting that she passes by! Yes, I'll take that carmel-colored Jacobsen Egg Chair in the background! Looking at great art is an adventure, a thrill, a ride, a spin, a suspense-filled journey. What's next? Where did that guy go? Where is she going? Will she drop her other glove or get dizzy and fall? What will we see around that corner of the museum? Will the masterpiece that makes my heart stop be there?

Art is a riveting, breathtaking, drop-dead joy ride.

Then, of course, we see her walking down those dramatic stairs that many of us have navigated many a time. DePalma plays with the glove theme again and she ends up in this guy's art-filled apartment (finally). He has modern art that you can barely see, but yup, it's great. What makes "Dressed To Kill" such a great advocate for art is the fact that DePalma made the art CENTRAL to the lives of the characters. He wasn't preaching about art (like I am now), but rather showing its function in everyday life. We can visit art, experience its whirlwind effects and we can LIVE with it. "Dressed To Kill" isn't about art, but it's about its significance. Even throughout the film, you can think of Michael Caine's blank expressions as a blank canvas for any emotions or thoughts YOU believe he's having. You become an artist. It's just a cool film that promotes art in a back-door kind of way.

Despite all of the suspense in this film, nothing is more stunning than when Ms. Dickinson's married character is rummaging through the bureau of the guy she just slept with. She just doesn't know when to stop. When DePalma does a tight panning shot of those words, "YOU HAVE CONTRACTED A VENEREAL DISEASE," all you can think is ... YIKES! The nightmare begins.

Let's thank God that the only disease art can give you is the "collecting bug". If a painting gives you VD, I suggest you sell ... NOW!

 

((Excerpt from "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal))

ART HISTORY BABES

I have a theory about women who major in art history.

Forgive me ladies, but this is where the male chauvinist in me is about to emerge. I'm going to explode if I don't just say it.

Guys, are women who major (or have degrees) in art history among the hottest women on the planet or what? I swear. It's like a "meant to be" thing. Peanut butter goes with jelly, ying goes with yang and hot babes take the art history route. By the way, I'm not just talking about nice looking women, I'm talking about extraordinarily beautiful women. What gives?

I noticed this for the first time during an art history course that I took in college. I seem to recall the class was on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I think it was during summer session. Anyway, I usually sat next to this beautiful girl whose name I will never forget, but won't mention here. She was of Eastern Indian background and was very quiet, but absolutely gorgeous. She had this lovely, dark hair and penetrating, bewitching eyes that I can still see in my imagination. We spoke frequently enough for her to have known that I found her attractive. Toward the end of the session, I even asked her out. She said no, of course. That's another thing about art history babes. They're not necessarily snobbish, but they're often unattainable. Dudes with the letter "L" on their foreheads need not apply.

Truly, flip through any art magazine and look at many of the women profiled who are curators or administrators. They're HOT! Needless to say, editors know what they're doing. Nothing helps sell a magazine like an attractive woman. Usually, of course, these women have art history backgrounds.

Come to think of it, practically every time that I've visited an art gallery, I've seen a very attractive woman somewhere in the mix. Clearly, art gallery owners know what they're doing too. Nothing helps sell art like an attractive woman. I know. I know. Many of the magazine editors and art gallery owners are actually women themselves. That's great. They're not just attractive, but they're also intelligent, capable, generous and really, the whole package. In short, formidable.

Last year, I was talking with an art gallery manager and her marketing person in San Francisco. Both are very attractive women. When I told them about my theory, they both laughed. The manager actually said she thought my theory also applied to men who major in art history. Then, the gallery marketing person told me that she was planning on going back to school to get an advanced degree. I said, "Really, in what?" "Art history!" she said. See?

I guess what we're really talking about here is visual delight. Perhaps women who major in art history already have that heightened sense and appreciation for beautiful, cultured things. Maybe they picture themselves as art and take superior care of themselves. Who knows? Yet beauty, like art, is subjective. We've all heard it ... "It's what's on the inside of a person that matters!"

Of course, my "theory" isn't a theory at all. It's just a passing, completely unscientific, sexist observation. Still, you can't blame an art-loving male for noticing women who are straight out of a Vermeer painting, can you? I'm sure there are plenty of "Ugly Bettys" out there majoring in art history (remember ... beauty is in the eye of the beholder) and there are lots of hot babes out there majoring in chemical engineering. Whatever. Oh, which brings me to this ... I just remembered ... that hot babe in my class ... she wasn't actually an art history major. She was pre-med.

By the way, I have a theory about women who major in pre-med. Wanna hear it?

 

((Excerpt from "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal))

 

BUBBLEWRAP

 

Does anyone need any bubblewrap?  If so, don't go out and buy any.  I've got plenty!

 

Every time I open the closet door in my kitchen or den upstairs, it comes falling out from the top shelf.  Somehow, I forget it's all in there.  It's like a tired, old comedy routine.  I know, I know.  Why don't I just throw it away?  I don't know.  It must be the art collector in me.  More like the pack rat in me.  I just feel that one day I'm going to need this bubblewrap for SOMETHING.

 

Of course, you know how I get it.  It's what all of the hip artists use to cushion their work (my latest acquisitions) in boxes they ship out.  I've just finished opening one from New Orleans artist Edmonde Lacoste and sure enough, plain as day, there it is ... bubblewrap.

 

Do you think the inventor of bubblewrap is rich?  I bet he (or she) is.  I also bet he (or she) was a nerd in school.  You know, very thin, with thick glasses and braces on their teeth that you could spot way off in the distant hallway.  He (or she) probably ate lunch alone and was mocked by laughing classmates.  Kids can be so cruel.  He (or she) probably also spent a lot of time picking books up off the floor because those meanies were always knocking them out of his (or her) hands.  This kid definitely had self-esteem issues.  I bet one day he/she took one hit too many and quietly uttered, "I'll show you!  I'm going to invent ... (what?) ... bubblewrap!  We'll see who'll be laughing then!" 

 

The rest is history.  I guess.  

 

Anyway, just think of all of the things that you can do with bubblewrap!  You can wrap fragile things in it before shipping or storing, you can ... well ... trust me, you can do a lot with it!  Oh, you can pop it!

 

Okay, I gotta say this.  There's this episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Larry David's show on HBO, where he gets this bubblewrap and he gets addicted to walking on it and popping it all the time.  That cracks me up, because that's me.  Is it you too?

 

There have been times when I've opened packages, and forgotten about the abandoned bubblewrap on the floor.  Nothing can shock the crap out of you like accidentally walking on bubblewrap!  Yet, can anyone resist popping that stuff?  Did you know that there's a website totally devoted to popping virtual bubblewrap?  I guess as adults, we can rationalize this activity by calling it "stress release."

 

When I was a kid, I LOVED Rice Crispies.  You know, the whole "snap, crackle, pop" thing.  Come to think of it, I haven't had Rice Crispies in YEARS.  Maybe that's why I'm "addicted" to bubblewrap (the first step is admitting you have a problem).  Once again, it all goes back to some unresolved childhood issue.

 

Funny, because I don't like popcorn as much as bubblewrap.  I mean the styrofoam popcorn used for packing ... not the kind you eat.  I LOVE edible popcorn.  Who doesn't?  But have you ever dealt with that styrofoam popcorn stuff?  It's a pain in the ass!  One time, I got a painting delivered that wasn't mine and I opened it by mistake.  Why did I do that?!  As I lifted the painting from the tall box, I realized something was wrong because I didn't recognize it (it wasn't wrapped in bubblewrap so I saw it immediately).  Well, at that point, practically all of the popcorn styrofoam came flying with it out of the box.  You forget that there's so much in there.  I had to sweep it all back up and put it back in the box.  Time consuming. Hundreds of pieces, some of which have that whole static electricity problem, so you have to fight to get them off your hands and clothing.  Pain in the ass.

 

I bet the guy (a woman would never invent something so ridiculous) who invented popcorn styrofoam was some football hero with gleaming white teeth who got all of the girls and was kind of a jerk.  (Fun with stereotypes!)  He's still jerking us around with that crappy popcorn styrofoam! 

 

I think I'll stick with my tried and true bubblewrap.  It cushions, it snaps, crackles and pops, it provides endless entertainment ... even for folks with addictive personalities.  Oh well.

 

Bubblewrap.  It's one of the world's great inventions.  Art is greatly indebted.

 

Now ... where did I put that extra stash?  It's around here somewhere ... "POP! POP! POP! POP! POP!  Oops!

 

 

((Excerpt from "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal))

I AM A SCULPTOR

Last winter, I was leaving an art gallery building in mid-town New York.  While awaiting the elevator, a nice couple walked up and waited as well.  Then, the gentleman turned and said to me, "You must be a sculptor!"

I must be a sculptor?  Where did that come from?  I was stunned for a moment.  It was one of the best compliments I've ever received.  Keep in mind, I really haven't ever had any desire to be an artist.  The last time my hands even touched anything resembling clay was when I was back in kindergarten playing with Clay-Doe.

However, why did I consider this such a compliment?  And what made him think that I looked like a sculptor?  What does a sculptor look like?  Looking back, I'm sure the guy was doing nothing more than easing an awkward moment in front of an elevator by striking up a friendly conversation.  But it's funny how the simplest of statements can get you re-evaluating your entire life.

What if I were a sculptor?  Would I sculpt in the morning?  Would I sculpt in the evening?  Would I sculpt all over this land?  What would I sculpt?  Would I be happy?  Are sculptors a happy bunch?

Whenever I think of sculptors, two things come to mind.  One, Mexican artist Javier Marin.  This guy does the most exquisite work I've ever seen in my life.  Larger than life sculptures that are to die for.  They make you believe that man truly has unlimited potential.  The other thing that comes to mind is that scene from the movie, "Ghost" where Patrick Swayze is "helping" Demi Moore at the potter's wheel.  If that's what being a sculptor entails, sign me up!  Oh wait, that's pottery, right?

Anyway, the reality is I'll never be a sculptor, but being mistaken for one was pretty cool.  Perhaps I should've played along when the guy asked me.  Sculptors seem so hip and free!  Why not?  Just think, I could've been a sculptor!  No talent, no credentials necessary.  I clearly would've been revered for just a moment.

I think the guy thought I was a sculptor because I had a big scarf around my neck.  It was a cold day in Manhattan.  Everyone knows sculptors wear big scarves around their necks during the winter, don't they?  In fact, the next time you're in New York City and you see someone with a big scarf wrapped around their neck, don't be shy, walk on over and say, "You must be a sculptor!"  And just feel the love flow!

Next time I'm in New York, I think I'll wear a business suit and walk up and down 5th Avenue.  Maybe I'll really luck out and someone will walk up to me and say, "You must be a wealthy art collector!"

ENDNOTE: The couple that I referred to in this piece are Florida artist Deborah Bigeleisen and husband Marvin.  We've become good friends since then and I love touring Art Basel Miami Beach with Deborah.   

 

((Excerpt from "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal))

THE CENTER OF ART

As a native New Yorker, I'll admit it. I basically grew up thinking that New York was the center of the art world.

This, of course, is one of the reasons why people who live elsewhere tend to dislike New Yorkers. Who wants to hang around a self-centered person? Or a self-centered city?

However, when it comes to the art world, many people believe that New York City really is the center. It's easy to make the case. Where do I begin? The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, galleries galore, art foundations and schools ... I could go on and on. New York is where a lot of the "art media" is based and many of the world's richest art collectors live there. The city is alive with constant energy, creativity and possibilities. It's all catnip to an ambitious artist ... or an ambitious anyone.

There's no denying that if you're seeking power, status and just basically want to put yourself on the art world map, then New York City is the place to be. While New York has been a life-long love affair for me, it has also been a nightmare. The constant traffic, the crowds, the lack of adequate living space and the overall un-affordability of the place make it out of the question for many people. Emerald cities always have their hideous underbellies.

Let's face it. Many people who live in the New York metropolitan area don't even venture into "the city" that often. If every single artist in the world ventured into New York seeking fame and fortune, where would we even put them? They simply wouldn't even fit on the island of Manhattan!

Which leads me to my simple point. Okay, there's a strong case to be made for New York being the center of the art world, but New York is NOT the center of art itself. Art is everywhere. It's everywhere you look. If an artist in Boise, Idaho is working on a great creation, then THAT is the center of art. If an artist in Juno, Alaska is mulling over which pigment to put on canvas, then THAT is the center of art. Art is literally everywhere. It's on the streets of Hong Kong, it's amid the rainforest in Brazil, it's in a Parisian coffee shop and it's also on the arid landscape of the Sahara Desert.

Art is where you are at any given time. You cannot escape it if you tried. Most importantly, the center of art is at the center of us. Art is inside us just waiting to get out. Art is in my fingertips as I'm typing these words. It's in our hearts, minds and souls. It's in our touch ... it's in our connection to one another. It's in our vision. It's here right now.

If you're seeking power and status in the art world, then perhaps New York is the place for you. However, if you're seeking ART, then you don't need to look any farther than your own community, heart, mind, paintbrush, canvas and yes ... fingertips.

 

((Excerpt from "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal))

RECLUSE 

 

It's a word that fuels the gossip mill.

 

"A social misfit!"  "Secret debauchery!"  "When is she coming out of there?"  "What is he doing in there?"  "They sure do spend a lot of time in there, DON'T THEY?"

 

If you're given to reclusive tendencies, you know the drill.  However, I think people who are reclusive get a bad rap.  Just think about many of the masterpieces gracing art museums and galleries.  They simply wouldn't be there if it weren't for the recoiling spirit of the artist who seeks truth far and away in beckoning solitude.

 

Do you think Jan Vermeer put up with people running in and out of his studio every five minutes while he painted?

 

For me, writing is an exercise that almost demands solitary confinement.  Most of my thoughts on paper are born in the silent stillness of the moment.  Alone.  Away.  Profoundly at one with oneself to create.  For me, there's beauty in aloneness.  How many times have we heard about convicted felons who completely turn their lives around after being released from confinement?  Well, maybe not enough, but we've heard it! 

 

Being a recluse by choice or force gives you some serious time to reflect.  It helps you find your voice.  Once you've found your voice, you find yourself in this constant state of bliss and truth, because no matter where you go, you're blissfully, truly committed to speaking truth, living with purpose and honoring the voices of others.  It's the nobility of uniqueness ... the celebration of every man.  That's until somebody says something stupid and the whole theory gets shot to shit.

 

But seriously, most of the artists I know create their works amid solitary settings.  It's necessary.  Some even paint in the middle of the night while their loved ones retreat to their own seclusion in slumber.  I remember watching a television program in which  novelist Tom Wolfe said that he liked meeting people at his book signings because he spent so much time alone writing.  Yet, let's face it.  Could he have written "Bonfire of the Vanities" while in a roaring nightclub every night?  I doubt it.

 

Nearly everyone becomes a recluse when involved in an activity that requires intense concentration.  For example, looking at art, yoga, running or watching a movie in a deep, dark movie theater.  Even though you may be in a room full of people, your concentration forces you to focus within.

 

Still, we don't trust recluses.  Poor Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo and Elvis Presley.  They spent so much time in the spotlight giving and giving.  We never gave them a break.  They're almost as famous for being reclusive as they are for being great performers.  I think Garbo probably wanted "to be alone" because she had people in her face most of the time.  Perhaps she didn't really say that, but I'm sure the desire to be alone crossed her mind.  They all basically had to die to get some peace.

 

Ironically though, we consider "retreats" cool.  We actually like the idea of going on retreats.  Getting away for a while to recharge.  Hmm.  I guess it all comes down to length of time and frequency.  If you go on a retreat once a year, you're cool and hip.  If you do it daily, you're weird.  Or perhaps other people consider you "too free."

 

You can't win.  Cynics are always waiting outside for you to emerge from your quiet room ... even if it's only in your mind.  Perhaps more cynics should be recluses.  They would be happier, not to mention, busier.  Just think, they would paint or write in solitary splendor and just wouldn't have time to judge. 

 

Pardon me while I go chant.  I may be gone for days.  Say what you will.

 

"Omm..." "Omm..." "Omm..."

 

 

((Excerpt from "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal))

 

MONDAY IN THE ART INSTITUTE WITH MICHAEL

 

 If ever there were an enchanting painting, this is it.

 

I saw for myself the spell it cast during a visit at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Strolling through the elegant galleries, I admired masterpiece after masterpiece.  I was very impressed by Edouard Manet's tall and dramatic portraits, "Beggar With Oysters" and "Beggar With Dufflecoat," 1865.  There they stood, side by side.  They're dark and moody, yet they basked in their own unique glow.  Fantastic.  "They would look great in my home," I thought.

 

The works of 19th century European artists are very special.  French artist Gustave Caillebotte's "Paris Street; Rainy Day," 1877 is another example.  The way he depicts people walking along a Parisian street is quite charming.

 

Still, the muse was calling.

 

I strolled and strolled and then, there it was.  A slow, unfolding of the greatness revealed as I caught a glimpse.  A vision of pure elegance pulling me in behind the spellbound crowd before me.

 

"A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," by George Seurat.  Is it possible for a painting to be more captivating than this?  Everyone and I mean EVERYONE stopped to admire.  They had no choice.  We were all bewitched.  It's huge and elegant.  You know you're under its influence when you want to step into that dream scene.  You almost think you can.  Who doesn't want to spend a Sunday in that park with all of those lovely people?

 

I would love to have that lady on my arm or recline on the grass, totally relaxed on a sunny day like that gentleman!  Gracious pointillism.  Ah, the good life!

 

So many people were taking photographs of this painting.  Go see it for yourself.  Sailing boats, frolicking dogs ... a delightful vision.  Suddenly, a seat on the bench in front of the painting became available.  I went for it.  I had a nice conversation with an elderly couple about "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."  They mentioned the Stephen Sondheim musical, "Sunday In The Park With George," of course.  The painting and the musical now seem to be married forever in the minds of contemporary people.  It was a warm and friendly moment with complete strangers.  The couple asked me to take their photograph posing in front of the painting, using their digital camera.  I was happy to oblige.  Then, immediately after, a group of ladies asked me to do the same for them.  I did.

 

Strangers were talking and laughing in the presence of Seurat's masterwork.  Not unlike a day in the park.  Some very pleasant, yet fleeting moments.  Light and airy.  It wasn't "Sunday In The Park With George," it was "Monday In The Art Institute With Michael."

 

We all had a nice time.  But then, none of us had any choice.  We were all enchanted by that lovely painting ... happily caught under its spell.  Go see it for yourself.  You'll see. 

 

 

((Excerpt from "Art In King Size Beds: A Collector's Journal))

GUARDIANS OF THE GALLERY

We tend to see them from the corners of our eyes. 

They stand, they watch and they wander.  To the typical museum visitor, they're nearly invisible, yet they're also the red flashing light that goes off if you appear to be threatening a work of art.

What would we do without museum guards?

They're uniformed apparitions who can be both menacing and friendly ... ready to give directions or haul you off to the authorities.  I'm thrilled to say all of my encounters with museum guards have been not only warm, but enlightening.

Not long ago, I was attending the Tim Hawkinson exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art.  Tim Hawkinson does really cool sculptural pieces that make funny sounds and do interesting things.  Well, I think that I must have appeared clueless about something because a guard came over and showed me how one of the Hawkinson pieces worked.  She told me that it was a toothpaste dispenser that was actually a clock.  "Oh wow!" I remember saying.  That museum guard is the reason why I'm now a Hawkinson fan.

Museum guards should not be underestimated.  I often think they're dying to share their knowledge about art.  Some of them are frustrated curators in cop outfits.  If nothing else, they might be good for a little gossip.

I also remember attending a Dan Flavin show at another museum.  Dan Flavin worked with florescent light installations.  As I was walking through, I mentioned to one of the guards that I should've worn my sunglasses.  He said, "Yeah, they told us that they're gonna get us some because some of the guards at the show in (another city) were having headaches and getting nauseous!"

"Wow.  Inside stuff," I thought.

At the end of my visit at another museum, I recall talking to a guard who gave me some tips on best times to visit, how to avoid crowds and when hot women tend to stroll in.  Trust me, you can't get that from a docent or curator!

I guess I would get bored too if I were on my feet all day making sure everyone was on their best behavior.  A little conversation can't hurt.  They can be art lovers just like the rest of us.

Museum guards.  Like Egyptian tombs on display, they're worth their weight in gold.  Just don't cross 'em.

ENDNOTE: Since writing this piece, I continue to have cool encounters with museum guards.  Nice, slice of life stuff.  I'll save those for a future book!



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