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|The Roving Eye
by Anthony Haden-Guest
|Notes towards a History of Patronage
Irving Blum, the art dealer who formerly was a partner in BlumHelman in New York, and who before that ran the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, was at a dinner party in Santa Fe recently when the following conversation took place.
Dinner Guest: "Mr Blum, did you show the Warhol soup cans?"
Irving Blum, with some justifiable pride: "Yes. I did. In 1962."
Dinner Guest Two: "Did you show the Liz Taylor portraits?"
IB: "Yes. I showed those in 1963."
DG2: "Did you ever show them to Liz Taylor?"
IB: "No. I have never met Liz Taylor. But I've heard of somebody who did show her the Warhol portrait of herself, and she wasn't so interested in it."
Dinner Guest Three (piping up out of nowhere): "I think you're wrong."
IB: How am I wrong?"
DG3: "I know somebody who showed her a portrait of herself on a silver ground. She loved it, and she bought it. It hangs over her bed."
IB, curiously: "How do you know that?"
DG3: "She's my mother!"
The guest turned out to be Santa Fe realtor Michael Wilding Jr.
The artist talks (but you don't have to believe every single word)
ASHLEY BICKERTON (to AHG): Artists used to have a joke back in the 1980s. There was an ad on television of a woman in a cocktail dress holding a champagne glass, saying, "I'm cleaning my bathroom bowl!" Because they have this little thing that sits in the toilet, cleaning it, while the woman was out and about, partying with the glitterati. We'd all be out at these events, and joking to one another, "I'm cleaning my bathroom bowl!" Meaning you have a horde of assistants in there, churning away. Production was going on at your studio, while you were out, enjoying yourself.
I was so alienated from production that I would open my studio door and the physical smell of the place would just repulse me. I couldn't stay in there more than a few minutes. It would drive me mad! Now it's very different. I go into my studio and I love the smell. So it's my refuge.
LAURA EMRICK (an artist who was formerly one of Bickerton's assistants): Ashley worked intensely hard. Sometimes he wouldn't leave the studio for 12 hours.
This comes from an interview with Bickerton, who now makes paintings, and lives in Bali. The whole interview is in the December issue of the PARIS REVIEW. Buy it! (Full disclosure. I am a consultant there).
The gavel falls
The timing of the announcement that Christopher Davidge was departing Christie's -- it reached staffers on Christmas Eve -- has struck many as rather pointed. Davidge, who had been head honcho of the auction house worldwide since 1993, will, no doubt, be mourned by some. But not by all. British author Robert Lacey got a whiff of Davidge's style when he decided to write a book about the auction business. "When I started I wrote to both auction houses," Lacey told me. "I thought I might do it as a story between Sotheby's and Christie's -- as a rivalry.
"Sotheby's responded. I got a letter from Diana Phillips after two or three days, saying we wish you weren't doing it. They'd rather not have writers sniffing around. But we'll help you. And that's been their attitude all along.
"Christie's absolutely said it would not help me at all. I got a private audience with Christopher Davidge for an hour and a half. I don't know if he was vetting me and decided he didn't want anything to do with me. I had an hour and a half in which I heard the story of the barrow boy who makes good. Except I'm not supposed to say that because I once mentioned that in an article and he got very upset. He said the whole thing was totally off the record."
Lacey said to Davidge "I suppose you'll be very upset if I just go and talk to people independently.
"He said I'll get more than upset. If I find out they've talked to you I'll cut them off at the knees ...
"So I tried very hard with a number of people."
He finally got through to a Top Guy at the auction house. No dice.
"He was very polite, and he said I'm afraid that we've been told we can't talk to you."
The result was that Lacey's book was called Sotheby's -- Bidding for Class. It's a pretty fair book. To Sotheby's at any rate. Christie's, unsurprisingly, appears as little more than a footnote.
One of the places to be on New Year's Eve was certainly at Norman Mailer's party in Brooklyn Heights. Among those present, who were mostly writers and movie-makers (like Mailer's son, Michael), was the art-world trio of Matthew Barney, his wife Mary Farley and biormorphic sculptor Keith Edmier. It should be noted that Mailer plays the magical escapologist Harry Houdini, in Barney's latest video, the strange and lustrous Cremaster 2. Barney was looking fairly lustrous himself, being that he was wearing a black-and-forest-green tartan kilt.
What's that, he was asked?
"The Black Watch tartan," he said, crisply.
Right. Kilts, like Harry Houdini, are part of Barney's vocabulary of images, so why not?
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ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST is a writer, reporter and cartoonist. He is currently at work on Famous: Some Journeys through Celebrity Worlds (William Morrow).