“It all started when somebody wrote the “F” word on a canvas” the famous gallery owner snarled cleaning out his fancy digs on 57th st. “Went straight downhill from there.” And that’s that. Game over. Head for the hills, the gigs up. No teeth gnashing and contemplation here. Just run for it. Said he has hundreds of paintings, can’t give them away. And his artists are Hopper, Nolde, Charles Burchfield and David Smith. Not exactly good news for the rest of us painters.
Just exactly when did the Fuller building begin to look so empty? Like something might have happened here once upon a time, it’s now dim elevator lights, tired hallways, space available! the sign sez, rug merchants sit next to dentists with shakey hands and the kind of lawyers that you hope the other guy has.
A simple flattering comment about a Lester Johnson oil brought the sales team to it’s feet. Running. “It’s listed at 28 thousand, you can have it for 18. That’s negotiable though. How about 12?” Sizing us up they were! And filter off as they apparantly were let down by all the usual tells: shoes, watch, fingernails, that transmit breeding, financial and social position. Somehow they mistook us for gallery visitors who might actually have some dough, might against all odds, be customers. “We can reframe it if you like”
Finally realizing that they might as well be trying to sell Damien Hirst lamb slices to the doorman , they went back to slumping in the once new desk chairs. No teeth gnashing here, just gloom. The clock ticked, piles of bubble wrap sighed in the corner.
And about the only time I ever almost bought something on 57th was at the Galerie St. Ettiene when they had a 36k Otto Dix mismarked at $3,000. After careful consultation with my inebriated companion we figured we had maybe 2k in the bank. Between us. Would you take 2? The sales consultant picked up the intercom phone and the big chief dealer lady bolted from the back room, ripped the price tag off the drawing and quickly showed us the door.
About Lester Johnson; a really good artist. An inspiration to a lot of painters actually. Lester is ( I hope not was) does anybody know? the nicest guy in the universe. So soft spoken you had to lean in close to hear him. A wonderful and true expressionist not a bogus expressionist or Neue Expressionist but the real thing, painting tortured full frontal single image heads with black oil paint dripping down over screaming red and green base colors or over an ochre you could build a garage on. I guess he hit his stride around the New York Figurative era in the 60′s or 70′s with his signature pieces; hard shoes tromping past a basement apartment window, a row of guys in bowler hats, all of which he beat into submission on his terms and in a boxer’s rage.
Later years he kind of went South Beach with limpid females in bathing suits looking langoriously at… Nothing. I always wished somebody could have grabbed him by the ear, pulled him out of his very modest Greenwich house and for artistic inspiration, shoved him back down into a basement on the Bowery, his true and noble starting place.
And then there’s the dealer continuing to pack up for the ranch in Aspen, ready to fire sale the lot of ‘em. Luck, the one component of The Holy Trinity*, was truly gone and the place would soon lie as empty as the contents of an open suitcase on the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike.
*Talent, Persistance & Luck. And you can go tape that to your Luxo-Lamp, Matey!