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Mike Weiss, 2002

Smock Magazine

Mike Weiss gallery on West 24th Street in Manhattan

John Newsom with his work, 2001

Tom Fruin
Flag: Alfred E. Snuta
at Stefan Stux Gallery

Work by Gordon Terry from the exhibition catalogue published by Mike Weiss Gallery
Little Big Man
by Charlie Finch

In a front page article three years ago, the New York Observer described Mike Weiss as the most hated man in the art world. At the time, the unknown Weiss was bugging big-shot artists like Julian Schnabel to consign small paintings to a show Weiss was organizing. How presumptuous!

Since then, Weiss has been informally characterized as the midget with two cell phones, the man who doesn't like to be touched, and the boy who destroyed Stefan Stux, all in the minds of his "friends."

Yet there's something about the sheer, persistent cussedness of the little fellow that endearingly endures. After all, Peggy Guggenheim was a narcissistic nymphomaniac, Larry Gagosian gets press for his off-shore income-tax fandangos, Leo Castelli was once described by Betty Parsons as "that mercenary," Betty Parsons was herself a notorious weirdo skinflint, and, just last week, Mary Boone allowed us to listen in while she screeched at some poor prole that "something has to be done to remove this gunk from my frying pan."

So perhaps eccentric Mike Weiss is on the perfect trajectory to be a star art dealer.

Little Mike was, not so long ago, a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design. His "art" consisted of painting gigantic billboards with his name "Mike Weiss" shining forth thereon. Mike left before he could get a degree, but more talented RISDees such as Gordon Terry and John Newsom are represented by him to this day.

Mike moved to New York, curating big group shows at the defunct Gale Gates gallery in Brooklyn, dating Erica Jong's daughter, and narrowly focusing himself on the Big Chance.

He possessed an amusing lack of sophistication and general knowledge. A few years back, we took tiny Mike to a Yankee game and, on the cab ride to the stadium, realized that Mike had never heard of Derek Jeter and never been to a baseball game before. We spent the evening at Yankee Stadium, patiently explaining the rules of baseball to young Weiss.

Eventually, backed by Scott Bennett, Mike co-founded the tongue-in-cheek art and fashion magazine Smock. Periodically, Mike would call us up: "I'm in Bill Wegman's studio, Charlie, and we want to shoot you for the magazine."

Reluctantly, we'd join Mike in Wegville on a Sunday morning, sitting around for hours drinking coffee with beautiful Russian "models" working for Mike on the clock, while Weiss wasted the day and the dollars pretending to be Alexander Liberman.

"Just take the picture, Mike," we screamed. Smock produced three or four issues, then folded.

Then came 9/11. Mike had landed on his teeny feet as gallery director for Stefan Stux. When Stux was blown out of his Ground Zero apartment by al-Qaeda, Mike succored him, while freely spending cash from Stux's operation to expand the gallery and hire sexy new assistants weekly. It appeared that the tiny monster had at last found his calling.

Here's the topper: Weiss dumped Stux, his patronne, during John Newsom's show last December, taking Stux's backers, a group of prominent conservative Israeli collectors, with him. There was wild weepin' and wailin' over Weiss' betrayal. Oh, the horror!

Last June, the words "Mike Weiss" appeared on gallery glass for the first time. His West 24th Street neighbors Boone, Rosen, Marks, etc., must have muttered, "There goes the neighborhood." But wee Weiss persisted, signing gore king Hermann Nitsch, the gorgeous Orly Genger, the white-hot Tom Fruin, opening with Gordon "The Shaman" Terry on Oct. 11, 2003.

One question remains: Who plays Mike, the new Peggy Guggenheim, in the movie, Danny DeVito or Jack Black?

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).