Sunday, January 18, 2009
A Cautionary Tale, Part 3
The art dealer's classic sports convertible crept down my gravelled driveway. It stopped outside the front door, where I was waiting. As I walked towards the passenger-side door, the dealer nodded toward the vehicle in my open garage, an Inca yellow Triumph TR7. "Whose is that?" he asked. "Mine." "Nice." he said. "How much did you pay for it?""Four grand." I'd bought it a few years before, after my first successful show. It was cheap on petrol and parts and fun to drive. Sitting low to the ground, everything looked different and the speed felt more intense. The impracticalities of the engine and design were tempered by the pleasure it gave me. At least, that's how it used to be. By the time the art dealer pulled up in his shiny reconditioned car, I couldn't afford a regular service anymore. The temperamental qualities which were charming when constantly maintained were hardly worth the trouble."This one's over a hundred grand." he boasted, patting the dashboard of his own car. I was thinking of his friend, also an art dealer, who had a garage – actually, more of a showroom – full of rare cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Paintings by Brett Whitely hung on the walls. They were some of Whitely's most boring works, pumped out for money, safe images in the colour he was most known for, ultramarine blue. Both the paintings and the cars fitted the formula many big dealers use when acquiring – buy the most recognisable, not necessarily the best. I slid into the low front seat next to the dealer. He reversed his pride and joy slowly, making sure that no branches grazed the paintwork. There were cafes near my studio but he drove past them. The sound of his voice – an incessant, self-inflating drone – blurred into the rhythmic bass tones of the engine. Urban streets then leafy suburbs flashed by. I started to wonder where we were going. The scenery gradually became more industrial as we drove through an area that I hadn't heard of before. The car slowed and pulled into a side-street. There an open roller door revealed a specialist garage. Mechanics rushed to open the art dealer's door. They were obviously expecting him. We got out and I followed him through a door into a lounge area. As my resentment and anger built, I found a worn, Naugahyde couch and sat down "Want a coffee?" asked the art dealer, motioning to a coffee vending machine that served a bitter, mud-brown liquid and long-life milk into plastic cups.He sat down next to me and launched into an aggressive tirade about the contract I'd refused to sign. Instead of apologising, he continued his pitch. Newspapers lay on the coffee table in front of me. I spread one open and began to read it, ignoring him. Although furious, I wanted to appear calm and unemotional. In the periphery of my vision, his hand movements became more emphatic and agitated, his face flushed. "Look at me!" he hissed, through clenched teeth. I continued to scan the newspaper. He fell silent for a moment. Then he said, "Ok, I'll give you sixty thousand. Right now." I made an amused, dismissive grunt. Sixty thousand dollars as downpayment for my soul – for everything I'd worked for. Money I'd be screwed out of somehow anyway. It suddenly struck me as funny. "Eighty thousand," he barked, as if my reaction had been a form of negotiation. Like a delusional bidder at a non-existent auction, he quickly increased the price. "One hundred thousand!" I continued to leaf deliberately through the newspapers, my expression unchanging. I was beginning to genuinely enjoy the performance. The art dealer leaned torwards me, exasperated and confused, his jaw clenched. He was losing control and his voice became more forceful. "Doesn't money mean anything to you?" I closed the newspaper, and laid it down on the coffee table. I stood up and slung my bag onto my shoulder. I hadn't looked at him since we'd sat down and I didn't look now. Staring straight ahead, I strolled to the door, past the dealer's red sports car, and onto the street.