Sunday, December 14, 2008

Art-Hounding Hits a Snag!

I've been furiously looking for paintings by the artist Milton Resnick ever since I first discovered him earlier this year. There are a number of artists whose work I eagerly view at any opportunity. But Resnick, unfortunately, hits me a different way. When it's time to leave the museum, I find that I hate to say goodbye to his paintings. That's never happened before.

I've been to many beautiful and famous places, having toured as a musician in something like 21 countries, and I've enjoyed them all greatly. But one attraction alone, the Alhambra, palace of the Moors in the south of Spain, hit me in a different way. I have no desire to do anything more than visit the Louvre, the Japanese Imperial Palace, or most other World Heritage-ish sites, awesome though they are. But the Alhambra...the Alhambra I'd very happily live in. It's not that it's more beautiful; there's just an undefinable something that makes me yearn to inhabit, rather than just visit. When it was time to leave the Alhambra, I recalled the tale of the expulsion of the Moorish King, who was said to turn and look back at his palace with tear-filled eyes. It's important to note that Moorish Kings weren't known for being the weepy type. But I understood how he felt.

I'll never move into the Alhambra, alas. But if I were to find a smaller Resnick painting, from outside his most prized period (1959 to 1965 or so), and found myself compelled to throw away way more of my savings than would conceivably be prudent, and not replace my five-year-old car any time soon, I might imaginably come to own something by him, if I hold out for a dark horse bargain. Never having been the itchy acquisitive type, I'm shocked by how persistent the compulsion has been. I suppose it mostly boils down to this: I've spent hours staring at several Resnick works, and have hardly begun to plumb the depths of any of them. These are not paintings to view, they're paintings to live with. They can't be fully experienced in mere hours. Imagine if you were a big Mahler devotee, but had never heard any of his symphonies all the way through.

I've approached a number of art dealers, mostly snobs who glance at my zhlubby appearance and cheap sneakers and resolve to waste as little time with me as possible. Roughly half the works for sale I've viewed have been
counterfeits (one can easily tell; a real Resnick spews ecstacy, a fake just lies there). And everything's been either overpriced or underwhelming. So I've bided my time, placating myself by thumbing through reproductions in old exhibition catalogs, sighing heavily like a childless young Mormon woman.

With much detective work, I learned that, as of the late 1970's, a certain university gallery had a Resnick painting. The gallery no longer existed, but still more detective work revealed that while the painting was all but forgotten by the university, which long since had lost interest in art, it was currently hanging, unannounced, in some cheesy conference room. I learned which room (yep, I've been working hard), and the kindly Conferences Director agreed to bring me over to view it. When he opened the door and turned on the buzzing, throbbing overhead fluorescent panel, I saw a masterpiece, cheaply hung, unspotlit, and drooping a few inches to the left. Decorating the wall of this small, grim institutional room, it might as well have been a "Hang in There, Baby!" poster. There was no protective glass pane; I was surprised some student hadn't scrawled "Kimmy and Dom 4Evuh" in the corner.

I've since considered all my options, including outright criminality, and decided my best bet would be to try to ingratiate myself with the university president, tell him my tale, get him caught up in the whole chowhounding ethos (my fascination with this third-rate abstract expressionist is art-hounding, pure and simple), offer to teach a class in ethno gastronomy for free, and see if he'll find a way to let me either buy the damned thing or else borrow it in exchange for a generous donation. So I wrote him a long, passionate, super-enthusmo letter, which I fear he may not read all the way through. I'm also afraid the board of trustees will either nix the sale or else, their curiosity piqued, confer with a zillion sleazy art dealers who'd promise unrealistic megabucks while tying up the painting for an eternity. I haven't mailed the letter.

This is a private university, not particularly prominent, and currently featuring a mostly pragmatic vocational type curriculum. The painting is a bit out of place there. It would be much, much happier with me.

Any clever suggestions?


CSouthwell said...

what a story!!!

Id let you have it after all that effort!

You could claim that you are the inheritant of said old galley, and coming to pick up what is rightfully yours.

after all if they dont value it nearly as much as you do, you could offer to get a rpint of the painting and tack it up whilst you get the original.

Anonymous said...

even though its a small college, i doubt very much the board of trustees need bother their elevated minds with a painting thats been forgotten.

is there a way for you to scout out who has the authority to make this sale? i'd then approach this individual and say you particularly enjoy this work and you know exactly where to hang it in your house etc - could he possibly sell it? there's always room for the hard court press later, and it can't hurt to start as low key as possible.

Jim Leff said...

There's no one there for that. There's no precedent for the university selling any of its art. It's got a bunch of it, but no longer has an art department or a gallery, so it's this completely forgotten legacy, with lord knows what other great works scattered randomly around the campus. In the same airless little room with the Resnick hung two or three awful pieces and one that had serious potential.

Really, some years ago, some administrator should have taken stock and sold it all at auction. But it didn't happen, it's off radar, and there's no custodian. And if I bring it up to anyone, the best I could hope for would be a major reevaluation of the school's art holdings, which would mean all sorts of dealers getting their hands on everything.

So while I'd prefer to go low profile, per your suggestion, it's seemingly not possible. And even if it were, the amount I'd feel obliged to offer for this painting, even at the low end of its value range, would definitely perk up interest, make lower-end people nervous and feeling compelled to report upward, etc. So all roads lead to klieg lights of awakened interest by the powers that be.

Pat said...

Might the "kindly Conferences Director" be helpful in some way? At least you have someone on the inside.

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