Monday, September 11, 2006

Art World Aliens

In the early 70’s I became quite friendly with a married art couple. By art couple I mean they were involved in the arts and were involved in the New York art world. I first met Betty at a Gotham Book Mart publication party for a collection of poetry by The New York School of Poets. The New York School was a rather elastic group of young and old poets who because they lived and wrote in New York were generally arranged under this title. Anyway Betty came up to me and introduced herself. Short petite and somewhat attractive Betty was working at the time at The Museum of Modern Art back when it was an intimate and lovely place to look at great art, and not the shopping mall that it has become. Betty chatted me up, and I liked her right off the bat. She was a native New Yorker, and that alone endeared her to me. She spoke kindly about my sculpture and told me how much she liked the few pieces she had seen, and asked if she could come by my studio some time to see more. “Of course” I happily and rapidly replied. It wasn’t too often that someone would actually volunteer to visit my studio, and it usually took many phone calls and letters to get a gallery director to walk up the 3 flights of stairs to look at my stuff. Betty had just married a painter, it was her 2nd marriage and Billy’s 3rd. Billy was a 2nd generation abstract expressionist painter who had as the saying goes “missed the boat” because when Pop popped, all these young and not so young painters went down the toilet. They still painted and showed but the flash had gone out of their flashlights, and all they were left with were some candles that were quickly melting down. That’s the nature of art and certainly of the fickle New York art world. Both Betty and Billy were outgoing intelligent people and they had a nice townhouse in a very unfashionable part of town. Filled with art and books, Billy’s studio was on a floor by itself and it was said by some that Billy was on a floor by himself. Where Betty was assured and demure, Billy was hyper and insecure. He rarely would talk about his paintings and would rarely shown his work to visitors. Instead he talked non-stop about stuff and nonsense, and told the most inane jokes that made nobody laugh and caused Betty to look up to the ceiling with an exasperated look on her face. He stopped showing his paintings. Dinner parties at their house were always fun mainly because of the wide and sometimes wild mixture of guests. It was at one of their dinners that I met Donald Barthelme, Barney Newman & Irene Worth. All three was marvelous and I was so high from their company and conversation that I had trouble falling to sleep that night. I would always check out Betty & Billy’s impressive art collection whenever I would be at their place. It was not a large collection in scope or size, but there were some marvelous pieces nevertheless. All the pieces were drawings or small paintings, most, of which Billy had gotten by trade. There was a small Franz Kline drawing, a lovely little Cézanne sketch and works by Demuth, Hartley and Hopper. So you could imagine my delight when Billy asked if I would like to trade works. Of course I said yes, I picked out a small collage of his and gave him a pastel drawing of mine that he hung next to the Hartley. They also collected erotic art. This collection was in their bedroom, and stored in drawers in Billy’s studio. Sometimes they would let me look. It was also whispered that they were into threesomes and sometimes group sex. Once or twice Betty hinted that I would be more than welcomed to join in one of their “parties” but all I could do was blush and thank her kindly. They were both very sweet and kind to me and for my 30th birthday threw me a large party. There were lots of artists and presents but I had just broken up with “M” and was feeling a little blue. I invited “M” and he arrived sloshed, and immediately took center stage, which was ok with me, because by then I was bored with the whole thing, and decided to leave. The party was still going strong when I left and walked myself back home feeling sorry for myself. The next day I went back to their house to collect my loot and help clean up. One memorable Thanksgiving Betty and Billy invited me, “M”, “G” and Regina Dunk who was one of the drama critics for The Village Voice to share in the festive day with them. All was fine until Regina after a few glasses of wine started in about “how theatre in New York was controlled by the gay mafia.” Well let me just say that the fur started to fly and what we gave to Ms. Regina was not pretty. The irony of it all was that soon after Regina ran out of the closet and took up with a woman poet and the last anyone heard was that she was happily grounded in a brownstone in Park Slope with her amour and their daughter that Regina gave birth to with sperm donated from a safe and healthy gay male surrogate. Anyway the dinner was a disaster, and Billy got so angry that he left the table and stormed out into the night. We went on with the turkey but the night was ruined and we soon left. A few days later Betty called me rather worried because Billy had not returned home and she was more than out of her mind with fear and anger. “How could he do this to me.” “Did you check the hospitals? Did you call the police, what about his other friends & family?” I asked. Now I was getting worried. Days passed and then weeks. Suddenly Billy was gone for over a month, then 3 months went by and the police had no idea what had happened, as there was no body and no foul play that they could see. “He’s dead and that’s that” Betty screamed at me over the phone one night. “How else can you explain this disappearance” “Well maybe he’s hiding out someplace” I weakly offered.” Oh Ira Joel why would he go someplace to hide out” “I blame that bitch Regina” I said. “She freaked him out so bad that he ran away.” Betty cried a lot that month. Betty found out that she was pregnant. Then in April and out of the blue Billy reappeared. He showed up one night at their house looking, according to Betty a little tired. His hair had turned completely white and he had an odd rash on his face but otherwise he seemed fine. “Ok? Well where the fuck was he?” I asked. “Are you sitting down?” Betty said using that tired old cliché from way back when. “Yes I’m sitting down.” I really wasn’t but said I was. “Well here’s what Billy told me.” Betty said. “He was walking on the Brooklyn Bridge Thanksgiving night he just had to be alone for awhile when suddenly there was a bright flashing light and a large space ship or something like one was over his head, and then boom a loud noise and he was gone.” “What” “Come on Betty, give me a break,” “No No Ira Joel that’s what he told me, and I don’t know but I kinda believe him.” “Betty if you’re not careful you’re both going to be carted off to the funny farm.” Billy went on insisting that aliens from outer space had abducted him and they had done all sorts of weird tests on him. Quite a story I thought but I just couldn’t buy it. He stopped making art altogether and spent all his time and energy writing a book about his adventures with the aliens. He got it published and was on all the talk shows. Shortly after Betty and Billy got divorced and Betty gave birth to a cute baby girl.

The two wonderful drawings on this post were done by a street artist by the name of Joseph.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter