My friend, the controversial novelist James Frey, insisted that I come to his art show at McWhinnie Gallery on East 64th Street, so, of course, I was first in the door. Second in the door was Richard Prince, whom I must truthfully confess, I had never actually met before.
He gave me a sour look, upon learning who I am supposed to be. Back to Jim Frey: he was commissioned by Sotheby’s to contribute an essay to the catalogue for "Divine Comedy,” a contemporary take on Dante’s epic poem, and, as Jim explained to me, "Charlie, I think of myself as an artist, so I have put these texts on panels at McWhinnie and a collector has purchased this unique piece for $95,000 in advance of the show."
Jim wouldn’t tell me the name of the collector, but challenged me to read the whole text, which I proceeded to do. It begins as a clever pastiche of Dante’s tour, taking Virgil, the great Roman epic poet, on a journey through hell and, then, heaven, which Frey summarizes as a contrast between WalMart (Hell) and Candyland (Heaven).
The explication is felicitous but the kicker lies in the last panel, for here Frey chronicles the death of his infant son in New York Hospital’s neonatal unit in 2008. The end of Frey’s text redounds with his walks through Central Park, hearing the voice of his child. Jim told me, "I think of him every moment," and I responded, "Jim, you have 16 balls to expose your tragic thoughts on a gallery wall."
It may seem superfluous, but I, Charlie Finch, spent 47 days in the New York Hospital neonatal until my mother was given the word that there was no hope.
I’m still here, but Jim Frey’s boy is not. I embrace you, friend, for turning him into "art," for if something is missing, it must be art, love, Charlie.
James Frey, “Il Divino Bambino,” Oct. 13-Nov. 9, 2010, at John McWhinnie @ Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, 50½ East 64th Street, New York, N.Y. 10065
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).