by Larry Litt
We dropped the old voter registration drive
table down in front of Ronald Feldman Fine
Arts on Mercer Street figuring we'd get
some of the artists and collectors to
register as they came out of the "Artists
for Freedom of Expression: Campaign '96
Benefit Sale of Artist Editions"
exhibition. In the show are at least two
dozen of the most famous, collectible,
internationally recognized and capital A
level artists, each of whom donated their
work for the fundraising drive to support
candidates and organizations who support
I like the idea, I like some of the art
more than others, I couldn't afford one even
if they gaveit to me, considering I'd have
to pay taxes on it and, of course, frame
So I returned to the table where I waited
for the politically committed and hopefully
flush, to remind them that they could be
unregistered. After a few hours of asking,
"Are you registered," and always the same
or similar answer, "Of course, but thanks
for asking," I decided I wanted to do
something more than register voters. I
decided I wanted to donate a work to the
"Artists for Freedom of Expression:
Campaign '96 Benefit Sale of Artist
Editions" exhibition and really help the
causes and candidates who support the arts.
So I went into Mr. Feldman's gallery again.
Only this time I asked the receptionist,
"Is Mr. Feldman in?"
"He's very busy. Can I tell him what its
about?" she asked with very businesslike
"Well," I stammered, "I'd like to donate a
piece of my art to the fund-raiser for the
"Does Mr. Feldman know you?"
"No, not really. I mean yes and no. He said
'hello' to me. I'm the guy sitting at the
voter registration drive table out front."
"Are you an artist?"
"Do you have a gallery?"
"Have you had any shows in New York?"
"Well," she said sucking in her breath,
then exhaling slowly and carefully, "well,
you can send us your slides and resume.
We'll let you know."
"But the show will be over by then."
"We'll be selling works for Campaign '96
until Nov. 5th. You don't have to be in
the exhibition for us to sell your work."
"I kind of wanted to be in the show."
"If Mr. Feldman knows your work it's a
possibility. But he knows the work of many
artists who aren't in the show. He's very
fair about that."
"Could I just bring something in and if he
doesn't like it he doesn't have to use it?"
"Mr. Feldman is a very busy man," she said
looking at me pityingly, I thought, "but
you can try. I can't promise anything. Just
leave it with me."
"Oh, thank you very much. I'll be back
tomorrow. Thanks again."
I turned to leave, then stopped and turned
back. "What's your name?"
"That's not important. Anyone sitting here
can help you."
This time I sighed, turned, walked out of
Back at the table I thought about what I
could bring in to impress Mr. Feldman
enough so he would put me in the show. I
didn't want to do just anything. I had to
make a masterpiece, something that's never
been done, the first one of its kind. I
believed I had to be the first artist to
comment on the entire political process
itself. I was also giving myself a headache
thinking about it. Or it was my
hypoglycemia kicking in from hunger. So I
closed up the table and went to my favorite
Chinatown restaurant, Tai Tung. As I ate my
vegetable lo mein I noticed a poster on the
wall. It was in Mandarin characters, but it
had the big check mark in a box that
symbolizes voting in this city. I stared at
it long and hard, wondering how many people
in this restaurant were eligible to vote. I
stared at it and wondered if it meant the
same thing to the Chinese as it did to me.
I stared at it and wondered what it meant
to anyone at all. Finally I began to see
double. The poster changed in my mind's
eyes from one box to two with only one of
the boxes checked. Suddenly I was
challenged with the question, "Will there
be anything else?"
"Yes, I said, "there will be a frame. A
really nice frame."
"Not on the menu," was the answer. I looked
up to find the looming waiter writing a
I ran back to my apartment-studio, took out
a pad and began playing with boxes and
check marks. After three minutes I learned
that there are only nine different
combinations of two boxes and a check mark.
My head was throbbing with ideas. Looking
back, it could have been an MSG headache. I
downed a couple of ibuprofens, then ran
over to Pearl Paint to buy supplies. I
picked out half a dozen 18-by-20-inch
prepared canvases, the same number of gaudy
frames, and a dozen tubes of really good
acrylics. I lined up to wait to pay. When I
reached the counter, I gave them my credit
A minute later I heard, "Sorry, your card
isn't any good."
"What! Put it through again please." I
tried to control my rage at the Visa
idiots, whomever they are. I've learned
anger means nothing to functionaries. But
no credit? The ultimate shame and disgrace.
The art world exists on credit.
"I put it through three times, already. Do
you want to pay cash?"
"Let me see. I'll be right back."
I had about 20 $ on me and the charge
was for $326. I walked out of Pearl
wondering if I'd paid my plastic money
bill. I walked up Broadway until I came to
National Wholesale Liquidators, the
ultimate discount store. I knew they sold
ready-made picture frames for a few bucks.
I chose a couple of 4-by-6-inch gilded
wooden frames after reviewing several
styles in chrome and plastic. I paid $5
cash for both.
Back in my studio I cut some shirt
cardboards to fit the frames. I drew boxes
and check marks with colored magic markers
and enhanced each design with more colors.
By 2 a.m. I had made 20 paintings and
chosen two for framing. I believe an
artist's day is a journey filled with
unknown roads that lead to transcendent
vistas. I slept the sleep of creative
exhaustion. I took two more ibuprofens for
my headache. In the morning I placed the
two little paintings into their gilded
frames and wrapped them in brown paper
bags. I went straight to the gallery. At
the reception desk I asked for Mr. Feldman.
There was a different woman behind the desk
this time. She looked at me, picked up the
phone, and said into it, "Mr. Feldman, your
"No, no," I said, "I'm bringing some art
for Campaign '96. I was told to come back
today." I exaggerated my instructions.
Omission for art's sake is no crime.
Mr. Feldman came through the door. He
walked me away from the receptionist. "What
do you have there?"
I opened the bags and held up the two
little frames. Mr. Feldman studied them for
a long minute.
"I like them," he said (which gave me more
hope than anything anyone's ever said to
me), "but I can't put them in the show.
These works," he turned his head slowly to
imply the walls filled with art, "are
bankable. I need work that can bring in
money for the campaign."
"But you can try to sell these." I must
have sounded like a beggar.
"I couldn't give them away in this show.
See me again when you're selling for these
kind of prices. But I appreciate your
concern. Keep up the good work." He smiled,
turned and walked back to the office.
Thanks for your time," I said. "Have a nice
day." But he was gone.
The gallery doors seemed heavier than I
remembered. The air was hot, thick and
dirty on Mercer Street. My little paintings
burned like fire in my sweaty hands.
What should I do with them now that they
exist? They must be seen, I decided. But by
whom? And for what reason?
(Continued next month In Artist-Voter
Larry Litt is a New York-based arts
activist, writer and performer.