Looking for T. Rex:
Not content to stalk the ghost of Andy Warhol in his two previous books (I Bought Andy Warhol and I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)), former Artnet Magazine columnist Richard Polsky moves further back in time in his new tome Boneheads: My Search for T. Rex (Council Oaks Books). The grandiose "search" actually consists of the diminutive Polsky scraping down some South Dakota rock for a couple of hours and coming up with a two-inch-long tooth, but Polsky's fans will forgive him the facts and join him in the myth.
Once again Polsky painfully pits his irritating nebbish persona against the experts, late-night phone calls, unannounced visits and copious beer drinking with his subjects comprising his quiver of ephemeral weapons. This time Polsky's quarry is not Vincent Fremont and the Warhol Foundation, but rough customers such as "King of the Dinosaurs" Bob Detrich and Sioux rancher Maurice Williams, on whose South Dakota ranch the most complete T. Rex skeleton, known as "Sue," was discovered during the golden age of T. Rex, which began in 1993 with the release of Jurassic Park and ended in 2001 with the auctioning of Sue at Sotheby's for millions, after years of litigation, jail time, native American claims and meddling by the Feds.
The dinosaur market has been hung over ever since, and its dicey denizens initially react to Polsky's arrival and his grandiose assertion that, based on nothing, he is determined to "find a T. Rex," with all the warmth of a living, breathing "Sue." Nevertheless, Polsky wears them, and his readers, down, to the point where the fearsome Williams sits in his pickup truck on his own property reading one of Polsky's Warhol books ("That's the 15 minutes guy?" Williams allegedly inquires), while Polsky sifts through the actual site where Sue was uncovered, looking for the remnants of a possible raptor boyfriend ("Sam"?).
Along the way, Polsky helpfully intertwines factoids from Dinoland with tales from his boyhood in an attempt to enthrall us (even one or two pictures would have helped in this unillustrated book, but so be it). Growing up in Cleveland, the urchin Polsky longed to hunt dinos, getting an internship at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where his arch female boss "took an immediate dislike to me." He retaliated by wearing an unauthorized Allosaurus staff patch on his jacket.
Our hero proceeded to major in geology at Miami University of Ohio. Realizing he would have to take math courses, which he detested, Polsky dropped his pursuit for a major in art history. What he calls "T. Rex Disease" has been eating at him ever since, just as he has been eating at the art world as dealer, critic, appraiser and number one fan of artist Chuck Arnoldi.
Helpfully, Polsky also tells us that there have been 40 T. Rex discoveries since the first one in 1903, with 30 bones at a minimum constituting a "discovery" and most discoveries lacking the all important skull, although the banana-shaped teeth and claws of T. Rex are relatively plentiful, in fragmentary form.
Dinosaur bones, as a class, are so numerous, that after they are preserved in plaster and "stored under the high school football stands," they are likely never to be further investigated, due to a lack of grant money and low interest in paleontology among young career-seekers. This dearth of finance and engagement has led to the rise of commercial collectors, aka "Boneheads," of whom Polsky approves, mostly because he gets to describe their buxom girlfriends in his book.
The downside for Polsky is inedible "Denver omelettes" for breakfast, dinomen like Detrich making him believe (for a few days) that a brown piece of rock could be "T. Rex eggs" (never discovered) and a list of expenses which the notoriously tight-fisted Polsky is unlikely to recoup from the sale of this book, absent his fervently repeated wish to be featured on the Discovery Channel.
Like everything Polsky, you will be alternately repelled and charmed by Boneheads. If you spring for the $25 dollars cover price, maybe, down the road, he'll buy you a beer.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).