Malevolence And A Museum | The New Engagement

Malevolence And A Museum

By Johnny Taranto

The radio was broken, so they sat in silence. The cab of the box truck sat three, and it was by sheer coincidence the three men seated there sat in order of ascending height from right to left. Daniil, an art handler, was in the driver's seat. He was short in that way that many young Russian men born just before the fall of the Soviet Union are. He was strong and healthy and attractive, with floppy brown hair and thick and stern brows that seemed to direct his face, presently forward, staring down the lonely, clean road surrounded on either side by thick and vivid green forest. Erick, another art handler, sat in the small center seat, struggling  to find a comfortable place to rest his head as he dozed. He was a good deal taller that Daniil, but lacked any of the command that Daniil’s appearance afforded. Erick was squished awkwardly into his seat, and his premature beer belly was constrained by the pressing of his bent knees. He was extremely uncomfortable.

Erick was instantly pulled forcefully from the great distance of his sleepy daze into an alertness of terror when he heard a click, and his nostrils were met by the wafting aroma of burning tobacco. He sputtered nervously. “Sir. Sir, I’m — I’m really sorry, but we aren’t supposed to smoke in the truck.” Seated to his right, in the passenger seat of the cab, was the last and tallest of the three, Raymond Gerecke. Gerecke was the very elderly and exceedingly eminent conceptual artist whose work was crated up in the trailer of the box truck. Erick alternated his attention, wordlessly entreating Daniil to say something, and back towards Gerecke in pained exasperation. Gerecke made no moves to extinguish his cigarette, but he did roll the window down, which he had neglected to do before lighting up.

Perhaps, Erick thought, if he concentrated his gaze on Gerecke, he’d capitulate. He took in the old man’s frame. Gerecke was certainly an intimidating figure. He was very tall, very thin, and very frail, but he was proportional, with large features to match his height. Big, lusterless eyes, and a broad forehead that was always furrowed. Erick thought, when taking a look at the rest of him, that the furrowing was an attempt to keep his heavy skin from dripping all the way off into a puddle. At 83, like the aged glass panes of a period home, rigidity had given way to liquidity, and it almost looked as if Gerecke were on the verge of melting.

Gerecke glanced back at Erick. He didn’t bother removing the cigarette from his mouth when, after these last few moments of uncomfortable silence, he decided to respond, muttering, “Julia must expect it of me at this point. I wouldn’t worry about it.” With that, Gerecke extended his hand to offer Eric his pack. “Anyway, I won’t tell if you don’t.” It was dangerous to comply, and yet Erick felt it may be equally dangerous to refuse.

Daniil finally chimed in, but to Erick’s consternation, in service to self. “Do you mind if I bum one?” Grecke pulled a cigarette from his pack and handed it over along with his lighter. Daniil lit up and patted Erick on the knee. “I’m sure we can make an exception for Raymond.” Gerecke was the biggest name in the Gallery’s stable. There was no way Julia would chastise him. It was himself and Daniil, Erick thought, who were likely to be the ones blamed by Julia. Her hot temper was impossible to extinguish when the fury was ignited. Regardless, he went to take a cigarette from the still extended pack, getting his selection two thirds of the way out of the box when Gerecke slapped his hand away.

“Sorry — really, but that’s my lucky one. Another one.”

Daniil laughed genuinely, and Erick anxiously. He gently tapped the cigarette back into the pack and took the one next to it. “Sorry about that. And thanks!” He had shoved a small red Bic into his coat pocket, and still wanting to avoid crossing Gerecke, he shimmied and jerked about to try and retrieve it rather than asking to borrow Gerecke’s lighter. Gerecke looked on, amused. When Erick had taken a puff he decided it was best to engage Gerecke, who had been silent the entire trip thus far, in conversation. “Superstitious?”

“It’s more just a habit. Neuroces or something.” Gerecke spoke with his hands, which trembled as they swayed to punctuate his brief utterances. They looked so aged and gnarled that it was a wonder he could support the weight of a cigarette at all. 

Nobody bothered to look at one another. Gerecke didn’t contribute anymore than that, and after letting some time pass Erick decided against continuing the chit chat. They drove on for fifteen or so minutes more. When they came upon the turn into the driveway of the Thiessen Estate Erick turned on the blinker, and, the silence cut, as if responding to the clicking of the car, Gerecke spoke: “This place is terrible! Not a person in sight. Just all this greenery. I’d go nuts.”

***

The box truck swayed slightly as it drove down the long, thin gravel driveway. They had checked-in at the gate to the Thiessen Estate at least five minutes ago, and the house was still not yet in sight. Gerecke sat erect and intent, taking in the bucolic surroundings in the same darting and antsy gaze of disdain usually reserved for streets choked with trash and strewn with dog droppings. When Daniil turned left at a small, narrow bend, the truck finally emerged from the arteries they had been traversing these three long hours and change, clogged by forest and shrubbery and the occasional idyllic stone wall. The house came into view. Finally, a sign of humanity! The house was massive. A palace! An honest to goodness real life palace. Old, traditional, tasteful and perfectly maintained. Long swallowtailed flags fluttered gracefully in the gentle breeze from their perches at the top of two overly tall poles on either side of the mansion.

“Wow!” Daniil’s eyes popped. His mouth was agape.

“People still live like this? For real? I thought these were all, like, tourist traps and wedding venues.” Erick spoke aloud, but not so much to Daniil or Gerecke. He asked his question of the air. He looked down at his outfit, which was pulled from a cleanish pile on his floor and dawned this morning with only the installation work he’d be doing considered. His jeans, cheap sweater, and his puffer coat didn’t really fit the aesthetic. He looked over at Gerecke who had discreetly lit another cigarette while he and Daniil were taking in the grandiosity of the place. Gerecke looked down at his boots. Daniil chose a spot to park beside a large and immaculate Range Rover that sat outside a garage that must once have been a stable. As he undid his seatbelt he, and all inside the cab, were startled by a knocking at the driver’s side window.

“Hi! Welcome!” It was a tall and impeccably dressed middle aged woman. She seemed, Daniil thought, like one of those women who buys jewelry at a museum gift shop. She had a smile plastered on her face and her words were muffled by the glass. “Wait just one minute!” She dashed around the front of the truck in the slow and pained manner; simply demonstrating exaggerated haste, nearly skipping over to Gerecke’s side. “Raymond! It’s so good to have you here! I’m Ellen Thiessen, we met at the opening? Julia introduced us at the after party. I’m such a huge fan, it’s such an honor to have you here.” Gerecke was taken aback by the ebullient politesse of his new collector. He alternated his cigarette to his left hand and went to shake Ellen’s with his right.

“A pleasure to see you again.” He was not impolite, although he remained a tad cold. Ellen’s smile betrayed her level of excitement. He was familiar with this look of hers. This was the look of the star fucker. The collector of creatives. He dreaded the impending conversations he knew were forthcoming. He’d engaged in the same rotation of approved topics with such people for years. But first: “Excuse me, Ellen, but if you’ll allow me to open the door.”

“Oh! Of course! My apologies!” She moved aside and Gerecke labored to exit the cab. It was more an more a struggle, he thought, to even turn to exit, let alone to climb out, but he lumbered out of the truck and righted himself. Ellen gave him a continental double kiss and, grabbing him by the arm, attempted to escort him into the mansion. “You’ve had such a long drive up from the city, I’m sure you could use a drink. What will you have?” She talked and walked as she led him up the path to the grand front entrance. Gerecke was a bit perplexed.

“Ellen, I’m sorry, but is this the way to the sculpture gallery? I’m really meant to supervise the installation.” He nodded in the direction of the truck where Daniil and Erick stood looking confused and aimless.

“Ah! Of course. Let me see . . .” She, too looked back at the truck, gently tugging at her lips with her perfectly manicured fingers. “Boys, the gallery is in the back of the house, you can continue on the same path you drove up a little ways and you’ll see the driveway that leads to the service entrance. You can’t miss the building. It’s right next to the pool.” She continued to lead Gerecke into the house, but he was insistent, and rather put off by her dismissal of the two art handlers. She hadn’t aknowedged them at all up to this point.

“I really should go with them, Ellen. We should get it all started. It’s a rather large and intricate piece, you know.” Ellen continued to smile, but her eyes betrayed a profound disappointment. Gerecke was unmoved, but knew it best to give the appearance of compliance. “Can we get to the gallery through the house?”

“Yes!” She lit right back up. “Of course. I can give you a quick tour, grab you a drink, and show you out there myself.”

“That will be fine.” Gerecke gently removed her hand from his arm and served up his dullest smile. He turned back around to address his companions. “Daniil, Erick, I’ll join you in just a few minutes. Just drive back there and get the ramp set up.” Daniil gave a little salute and he and Erick started out for the gallery.

“What will you have, Raymond? I have some lovely white wine I just opened. We got it when we were in the Loire Valley for my daughter’s twentieth last month. Baron de L Pouilly-Fumé. It’s really a stunning wine. I had three cases shipped back ahead of us. I think it’ll be my new everyday wine. Also, if you aren’t much of a wine drinker, we have . . . well, everything.” With this, she giggled. Gerecke forced a smile. “You look like you might be a whiskey man to me.”

***

To Gerecke, the trek through the house seemed like it took an eternity. Ellen Thiessen insisted on giving what she swore was an abridged tour of the ground floor. There was a cavernous entrance, a number of sitting rooms, and an honest to goodness ballroom.

“You must come up here for New Year’s Eve! It’s the only time we ever use this room. Such a shame really.”

“That sounds lovely. Thank you.”

Gerecke had developed a specific walk for these situations, which is to say he moved slowly but never ceased moving, always trying to get through as quickly as possible. But, even that proved no match for the excessively gargantuan space he was being forced to traverse. He had been in many luxurious and ostentatious homes throughout his career, but he never managed to become so accustomed to such settings that he felt comfortable. The Thiessen Estate in particular was far too much for him. He could feel himself growing more and more tense as they progressed from one palatial room to another. Finally, after much needling, and after Ellen had poured herself a healthy serving of wine, he accepted a double whiskey, neat, from the bar cart that sat in front of the large french doors that led out to the Veranda at the back of the house. He could see what he assumed was the gallery off to the side of the large plot of land. So close. When Ellen darted across the room to pull a book she wanted to show to Gerecke down from a shelf at the far end of the room he downed his glass and helped himself to another healthy double.

***

They were finally out of the house. “Thank fucking Christ!” Gerecke muttered to himself as he followed Ellen out of the mansion into the back garden. She pointed over a row of hedges towards a building which, even from a distance, Gerecke knew would be equally massive. It was, though, drastically different from the classical home. “That’s our little private gallery. It’s Magnus’ contribution to the estate. You know, we get quite a number of visitors. He thinks we should diversify our offerings. We plan to open the gallery to the public in a few months, once we finish construction.”

“It’s really very lovely from what I can see.” Gerecke continued his constant, and increasingly sisyphean, forward motion, trying to extract himself from this intolerable situation.

“It’s not exactly my taste, but, I’m sure you can understand, it had to be more of a . . . well, a more practical space, and befitting the collection.” Picking up her pace, she trotted ahead of Gerecke leading him around the perfectly flush hedges down a winding path towards the gallery. They came to the swimming pool. It was well in keeping with the aesthetic of the gallery, which Gerecke was seeing in full now. The building was entirely marble. Gold-tinted marble. No windows, just a solid and unending mass of marble. He finally stopped moving and stood before the building in shock.

“Is this it?”

Ellen smiled, satisfied to have, she thought, finally impressed Gerecke. “Yes! Like I said, It’s very different from the rest of the buildings on the Estate, but it’s Magnus’ domain. He had the architect mimic the Beinecke Library at Yale. Magnus studied there. It has no windows, but the marble is so thin that the light still manages to just sneak through. It’s really a rather warm effect once you’re inside.”

Gerecke peeled his eyes away from the gallery and looked around. In the distance was a tennis court, and right in front of him the minimalist pool. It looked more like a fountain. It had no ladder that he could see, and in the center of it, on a plinth, was a sculpture he was immediately familiar with. There, spouting water from either mouth, was a Congolese Janus-Headed dog. A Nkisis Nkondi. It was gorgeous. Solid, hand-carved wood pierced by nails and small reflective shards of glass. He had seen similar sculptures before and was quite fond of them. He pointed at it and, turning to face Ellen directly: “Is that a reproduction?”

Ellen grinned. “That sculpture? The Nkondi? No, no. We got it in the Congo last year when we were visiting a school we had financed. A girl’s school. We found an amazing little shop in Kinshasa. We just fell in love with it! The dealer gave us an excellent price, threw in shipping. We just had to have it.”

“And the water?”

“Oh, that we had done. It was really quite a pain. We had to actually have the whole thing split in half, routed, and then have piping installed. But, you can hardly tell.”

“You had it cut in half?”

“Oh, there was simply no other way.” We had the wood treated as well, so that it could withstand the outdoors. It’s a little darker than it was, the wood, but, you know, the snow has been so heavy the last few years, it was an absolute must.”

Gerecke was sick; genuinely disgusted. He maintained a cool exterior, but his mind raced, his rage burned hot. “This stupid bitch!” She had had a gorgeous artifact destroyed so that it could serve as some banal decoration. A lawn ornament! It was grotesque. It was a crime! This power symbol, this — did she even know? This vessel for spirits, ruined. Routed! He needed not to look at it. He needed to walk away from this abomination.

“Please, Ellen, lets go inside. I really should see where the piece will be installed.” He hoped his tone didn’t betray his anger.

“Of course, follow me. It’s just over there.” She pointed in some direction, but Gerecke paid her no attention. He simply followed behind her. She continued to talk at him, but he fell silent, seething.

***

Ellen had been right. The space was monolithic, but rather light. Yellowy light washed over the white, polished concrete floors. The same marble had been used to create a series of walls, on which were mounted a number of large paintings. The space was dotted here and there with sculptures, and at the far end of the gallery, where the building angled sharply towards a point, breaking up the symmetry of the otherwise rectangular building, a large mobile dangled from the ceiling. It was the most impressive private collection Gerecke had ever seen. Big names everywhere, and the Thiessen’s had even included engraved bronze placards beside each piece with pertinent information. This was not a private gallery. This was a private museum.

“Do you think this will do?” Ellen was very pleased with herself, taking Gerecke’s lengthy silence and immobile stance as approval.

“I think so. Where is the piece going?”

“Follow me.” Ellen led him through the space. It was a labyrinth of ostentatiousness and excess. Most small museums, he thought, weren’t blessed with so extensive a collection. They came to a nook, the only bit of the gallery not faced entirely in marble. There was a heavy gold curtain that Ellen drew back, and, gesturing for Gerecke to proceed, they came into a black box, dimly lit, and, Gerecke thought, far too large. The ceiling was polished bronze, as was the trim that lined the floors and surrounded the entryway. Seated on a bench, in the center of the small gallery, were Erick and Daniil. They nodded at Gerecke in acknowledgment of his arrival and stood. The piece was resting on the floor on a number of drop cloths.

“We had this room done up especially for this piece, Raymond. We weren’t sure the neon would be as luminescent as we wanted out in the main room.” Ellen assuredly thought this would please Gerecke. They had taken such pains to build a space expressly for the display of his piece. A place of honor. An altar to his genius!

It did not please him, at all. They had had a room built specifically for his piece?  Had they ever seen his work? Especially this piece! Correspondences of the Despondent, of which the piece laid out before him was a part, was a collection of renderings of letters exchanged with out of work laborers who had been so kind as to communicate their thoughts on the state of the world and globalism with Gerecke. They were factory workers, mechanics, janitors. This was an entreaty to eschew excess. Painstakingly executed in intricate coils of neon to resemble illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows. It was meant, as all his work was meant, to excoriate wealth, class structure, materialism. Now, here it was. In a bronze clad room. In an entirely marble building without windows, in the backyard of a privately held palace. He had been sick at the sight of the desecrated mongrel outside, but this was a deep cut. This was his work, his legacy. These were his collectors! 

“I need a moment. I need some air. I’m sorry, I’m feeling . . . unwell. Please, excuse me.” He left the room and stumbled out into the gallery’s main corridor, finding a bench to sit on beside the technicolored, twice-life-sized sculpture of a crying clown. He knew and hated the artist who had made it. He found an empty bit of wall and stared at it as he attempted to calm himself.

“Raymond!” Ellen had followed after him. He could see Daniil and Erick looking over at him from a slightly obscured perspective, just behind the curtain to his own private room. “Can I get you anything? Water? Was it the whiskey?”

“No. No, I’ll be fine, I just need a moment to myself, please.” Ellen was not assuaged, however.

“There must be something I can do, I feel dreadful. Really, absolutely an . . .” Her eyes darted upwards. She grimaced and cried out: “Agnieszka! Agnieszka! That is not how that is supposed to be done!” Gerecke glanced back over his shoulder. In the distance, a maid was polishing another sculpture by the same artist as had made this nauseating clown. It was a blue mess of squiggles.

“Excuse me a moment, please, Raymond.” Ellen really darted off this time. There was nothing playful in her gallop now. “Agnieszka, I have told you several times, Hendrick provided us with a special cleaner for that piece, and — look, you aren’t even polishing in concentric circles. You really do need to listen! Look, I’ll show you again.” Ellen forcefully snatched the cloth from the maid’s, Agnieszka's, hand. “Not side to side. There’s no grain to follow. This is hand blown glass, not wood. It’s polished in circles, see?” Ellen mimed a circular motion, but didn’t actually lay cloth to surface. She polished the air. She spoke again in an irritated staccato: “If it’s not polished in circles the light won’t reflect properly. Small. Concentric. Circles. And, please go get the correct polish. It’s in the utility closet near the entrance.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m so sorry Mrs. Thiessen.” Agnieszka looked horrified and embarrassed. There were, after all, others in the room with them witnessing this dressing down. Gerecke felt himself shrink on her behalf. He was reminded of his father — of going in to work with him. Of seeing the plant manager chastise the elder Gerecke for some small slight. He felt now as he felt then.

Ellen began again to chide Agnieszka, but, remembering Gerecke, and casting a furtive glance back towards him where he was still seated, watching the scene play out intently, even more disgusted (could that be possible?) now, she thought better of it. “It’s fine. Just don’t do it again, Now, please, go grab the right polish and start over.”

“Raymond,” Daniil called out, recognizing the mortification Gerecke was experiencing, “why don’t we get started.”

***

Gerecke did not utter a single solitary word the entire drive back down to the City. In an effort to preserve the silence he desired he feigned sleep, although he remained alert the entire three hours it took to travel back to the Gallery. The truck had barely stopped in the alley behind the Gallery before he had leapt, as quickly as his age and health would allow, from the cab, slamming the door shut behind him.

It was dark now, and the Gallery would generally be closed on a Tuesday, but Julia had come in to meet with Gerecke.

“Julia, Raymond is back.” As he entered the attendant, who really had no reason to be there, alerted Julia to his arrival as she had been directed. She got up to take his coat, but Gerecke refused.

“I’ll keep it thanks, I don’t intend to be long. Where is she? I need to speak with her immediately” Gerecke had, cloistered by his imposition of total silence, played over the argument he was about to have with Julia, over and over in his head. He had thought about firing her, quitting, whatever. He was more livid than he could ever remember being.

“Oh, Mr. Gerecke, she is on her way out to greet you now. Can I get you anything? Water? Coffee? Champagne?”

“No, you can’t get me anything. Why are you even here? Julia!” He called out for Julia, his voice trembling, his frame quaking. “Julia!”

Julia rushed out of her office, trotting. “Yes, Raymond yes. I’m right here.” she turned to the attendant. “Did you ask to take his coat? Did you offer him anything?” The attendant was petrified.

“She did, she did, she’s fine, Julia. Send the girl home, there’s no need for her to be here. I need to speak with you, now.”

Julia forced a smile. “Ok, well . . . great. And I have something I want to discuss with you as well. Just head back to my office, I’ll be right there.”

“Send the girl home, Julia.”

“Ok, Raymond. Just head on back.” Gerecke stomped away angrily, and Julia, perplexed, watched until he had made his way into her office and slammed the door shut behind himself. “Lisa,” she turned to the attendant, “please, fetch a bottle of champagne and two glasses. Bring it on the pushcart, knock on my door, leave it, and then you may head home.” She adjusted her skirt and calmly walked in the direction of her office, calling back: “The champagne, Lisa. Not the prosecco.”

***

With the glass of champagne that had been forced upon him, Gerecke swallowed his medication and downed the drink. Julia rushed over to refill his glass. “I don’t understand why you are so upset Raymond. The Thiessens are great admirers of your work and the Gallery’s best clients. They thoughtfully provided a private space for your piece. They obviously considered the piece, it’s intent, and they removed it from the context of the rest of the collection.”

Gerecke was incessed. “It is in a gilded cage, Julia. You sent me off to a palace! And I’m not being hyperbolic there. It was a legitimate palace! Do you understand the piece?”

“What exactly did you expect? You must have known it wasn’t going up at some community center. It’s an expensive and precious work of art! These are your collectors. These are the people shelling out the big bucks to own an original Raymond Gerecke.”

“Bull shit, Julia! Bull. Shit.” He took another hefty swig of his champagne and coughed a bit — and then a lot. He doubled over where he stood, steadying himself at the edge of Julia’s designer leather surfaced desk. She ran over, producing a bottle of Pellegrino as if from thin air and handing it to him, and with expert discretion slid his champagne flute onto a coaster.

“Here, Raymond. Please, calm down. This can’t be good for you.” She let him take a swig from the large bottle. “All this . . . excitement over something so miniscule.” He righted himself and glared angrily at her.

“It is not miniscule. This is the misinterpretation of my work, it diminishes my legacy. It’s the polar opposite of my beliefs and intentions!”

“Well . . . “ Julia was hesitant to bring this up now, but never one to miss a segue when presented with the opportunity to speak: “ . . . this is exactly what I wanted to speak with you about Raymond.” It was Julia now who downed the entirety of her newly poured glass of champagne. She exhaled and started in. “You are 83 now.” She paused after this to ensure she hadn’t offended Gerecke. He was unfazed. “You maintain an extensive collection of your own work — not to mention your archive.”

“My archive?” Gerecke knew she was after something. She was never subtle.

“Maybe not . . . as such. Not one that has been properly catalogued, but you know — your sketchbooks, notebooks, videos, letters. Everything!”

Gerecke grimaced. He took a seat on one of the too small armchairs before the desk and crossed his legs. “Go on.”

“We have to consider — you have to consider, what happens to everything when you, well . . . to be frank, pass on.” She poured herself a small tipple, consciously saving the last third of the bottle for a toast should Gerecke agree to what she was proposing. Gerecke knew what she was proposing.

“You want me to bequeath my estate to the Gallery.” It wasn’t a question, it was a cold statement. His expression remained stony. “Julia. I came in here to fire you.”

“Fire me? What for?” Julia betrayed not an iota of shock, dismay, nor anger. Her practiced nonchalance was worthy of an award. Best actress in a leading role. She was not one to accept anything less than exactly what she demanded, and now she was demanding. “You want to part ways with the gallery over this Thiessen nonsense? They paid a bundle. We both made a bundle!”

“That’s not the point, Julia, I . . .”

She cut him off. “Look, there was no indication from you that you would be adverse to selling to the Thiessens. They are not the first to maintain an . . .” (she chose her words carefully) “. . . extensive private collection. If this is how you feel, though — this strongly, I certainly take no issue with, moving forward, allowing you final approval of sale.” She sipped at her glass. “Not that you didn’t always have it.”

Gerecke rubbed his face hard against his palm. He wanted out of this room and to never come back. He was tipsy now from the champagne, and this too caused him no shortage of vexation. “Look at me!” he thought to himself. “I’m drunk on champagne, arguing with a sabre-toothed cat in stilettos.”

He pushed his champagne flute away. “I want a whiskey.”

Julia let Gerecke get a bit more toasted before continuing to tighten the vice grips. A page from her tried and true play book — ply and pry.

“I know there’s the gallery in London, and the one in New York, but they’ve never been able to do for you what I have. Plus, this is your home. I truly believe we are best suited to manage the estate and whatever else needs handling.”

Gerecke had mostly stopped listening. He knew Julia would talk until she was done regardless of how much he interjected or protested. He focused his thoughts, as best he could being four drinks in, on how he could go about fixing all this himself. Certainly, if he ended his relationship with the gallery he’d be fine financially. And Julia wasn’t wrong. He didn’t have long left. He knew that too. It was just the morning before that he had coughed so hard that he had temporarily put his neck out and was stuck in bed for two hours.

Julia was oblivious to Gerecke having switched her off. “Perhaps not only the art and the papers, but if you are so concerned with where we show the work, well, there’s always your studio! It could easily be converted into a space dedicated to your work alone. A little annex of the Gallery. I’m happy to work with you, Raymond. It would be a shame too see it all left up to probate. Can you imagine? The collection just divided up amongst some bitter and greedy dealers or the children of some distant cousin, on the block at Sotheby’s or Bonham’s.”

At the mention of the auction houses he tuned back in, a bit. The thought of it did horrify him. The work tripling, quadrupling in value — a statistic, a going rate, a record sale. His work would be an investment, owned and loaned out by people he himself despised to museums and galleries that operated like cats in heat, splaying themselves for easy mounting and constantly crying out for more. Would anyone cut his work in half to make a lawn ornament? He shivered at the thought of his Madonna-esque sculptures of minority teen-mothers, anesthetized, drooling water into a tacky fountain beside a tennis court.  He had, of course, made his peace long ago with being a champagne socialist, but the height this absurdity was reaching was dizzying. Or maybe it was the whiskey? As if to test it he poured himself just a bit more. Julia was still going.

“I really think, Raymond — I really, really believe that if this is how you feel now that the best way to ensure things are handled after you are gone is to entrust your collection to the Gallery. Plain and simple. We can work together on exactly what you want, and . . . “ Gerecke cut her off now.

“Ok.”

Julia was enraptured. “Ok? You mean yes?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, Raymond! This is excellent. And, I promise! We will work together on exactly what you want. You just have to let me know what you are thinking and I’ll make it happen.”

“Well, I do have an idea, let’s get to it. Pour that champagne you were saving.”

***

The Museum was set to be constructed on a large plot of land in a suburban neighborhood north of the City. Not too far, actually, from the Thiessen Estate. The Thiessen’s had been instrumental in securing the property, providing the majority of the down payment and, along with other affluent collectors and admirers of Gerecke, generously endowing the associated not for profit with the initial funds towards planning and operation costs. In recognition of this generosity, Ellen Thiessen was invited to co-chair the board of directors along with Julia, and all of this in support of Gerecke’s own vision. It had been Gerecke, in the end, to recommend the Thiessen’s much to Julia’s surprise and Ellen and Magnus Thiessen’s ebullient delight.

Gerecke, he specified and codified in his will, would design a monumental building to showcase his art. It would be built according to his exacting specifications on his terms as he was apt to remind Julia, particularly when she would push for him to involve any number of architecture firms ravenously pursuing the chance to be associated with the project. But, Gerecke was adamant. The museum was itself a sculpture, and he would have nobody else involved in the creation of this, his “last and most perfect work,” as he worded it over dinner with a number of wealthy collectors when Julia was seeking financing. Gerecke worked tirelessly, often through the night, sketching and notating each and every nook, cranny, inside and out, in excruciating detail. There was no minutiae; that would imply that Gerecke saw any physical or tactile element of the project as being undeserving of his time and attention. 

Seven months into his work, the board contacted Gerecke to inquire as to his progress, requesting to see his plans up to that point. His reply was curt and absolute, delivered via email:

“I’ll be dead soon enough. You can all see it then.”

He was a no show at scheduled meetings, and if he did dain to attend he sat in silence, concentrating his attentions entirely on the sketchbook he kept open and on his lap at all times. He began to draw the ire of the board members, the financers, and even Julia, whose skill in the art of ass-kissery was unparalleled, had reached a point of frustration with Gerecke that prompted her to go so far as to suggest that, perhaps, the whole project should be called off if he were to be so uncooperative. To salvage it all, Gerecke provided the board with a few preliminary renderings, and they backed off.

“I didn’t ask for your input, did I?” He had dressed down one of his younger assistants when she made a comment on his worsening cough. He had ordered her to the kiosk down the street for a second pack of cigarettes that day. Gerecke was becoming increasingly ornery as time progressed. His intake of cigarettes and booze had reached its zenith.

“Do as I say, when I say it. Otherwise, get the fuck out!” He tossed a stack of papers at her, and when she had sprinted out to grab his smokes, he ordered another assistant to carefully gather the now scattered sketches.

The sun set on his 83rd year and never rose on his 84th in so much as it just sat at the horizon line of eternity like a summer midnight in the North. As his health continued its rapid decline he became confined to his bed, laid out amongst scattered papers, sheets stained by ink and graphite and the profusions of mess and over-the-counter ointments that dress old age and malady, scored by the rattling of a seemingly endless buffet of pills in their cheap plastic organizers. This is how Raymond Gerecke spent the last four-ish months of his life; deep into his work and suffering without any genuine effort expended in the service of the easing of his pain. When he was found by one of his assistants the morning after he “passed peacefully in his sleep,” as his glowing obituaries reported, there was a rank and overflowing ashtray found on the bedside table beside him, and a number of empty and near-empty bottles around, on and under the bed.

 The final plans for The Raymond Gerecke Museum and Research Centre were at the foot of the bed, just inches away from the shockingly diminutive body of it’s namesake, stacked neatly, collated, and with a short note scribbled on a makeshift cover page:

“Here you go. I’ve finished.  — R. Gerecke”

***

Construction took nearly twice as long as expected, although the delay really ought to have been expected in a village where even the exterior paint colors need to undergo a months long approval process by a planning committee. A small minority of inhabitants of the Village organized an opposition campaign in an attempt to thwart the project, primarily opposing the design for the exterior as it was, in their opinion, “not in keeping with the architectural context and historic character of the community.” Additionally, the thought of any amount of tourists, even the young adorables dressed all in tailored black and immaculate white sneakers day tripping up from the city to see the art, was utterly intolerable. After much needling, a lavish party hosted by the Thiessens, and the corrupt promise to one voting member to ensure the committee would unanimously approve her whimsical topiaries in the shape of hedgehogs, the Museum was narrowly approved and construction kicked off. The opening reception was scheduled for June, just shy of two years after the death of Gerecke.

The museum was, according to a write up in the local paper, “. . . a prescient example of the potential successes of privately built public space. The muscular building, comprised of three large rectangles faced in curved concrete panels pay homage to the areas stunning cliffs, more befitting the landscape of the community than critics had feared or attempted to lead others to believe. The bits of mica and iron ore that fleck the edifice are, like the designer and Museum’s namesake, ingenious, lending a naturalism and resulting in a rapid antiquing effect, activated by the heavy snow of the past winter. The Raymond Gerecke Museum and Research Centre is spartan but whimsical, intellectually heady while simultaneously accessible.” There was not a peep of dissent from any source. Praise upon praise was generously heaped and lavished upon the finished building.

The majority of the grounds were coated in gravel, mostly hidden on the night of the opening under parked Mercedes and Audis and massive gleaming Range Rovers. The few trees that surrounded the perimeter of the Museum, although chosen to grow rapidly, were freshly planted and stood squat and sparse. They were twigs with a smattering of green. Julia had them wrapped in twinkle lights.

All the stops were pulled out. Julia invited every big name in her rolodex, along with a handful of emerging talent she had her assistants poach from the City’s alternative spaces, enticed by food and drink in exchange for looking hip. The board shelleded out for a full open bar, catering by the head chef of a chic new restaurant in the City named for a profanity, and bringing up every employee of the Gallery to work cheap or free.

“Where did you find this DJ?” Ellen Thiessen broke away from Betina and Babak Farshid, two prominent collectors who had loaned their work to the Museum for the inaugural exhibition, the minute she caught Julia in her crosshairs.

“Oh . . . her name is Ebba. ‘e.BB.a.’ She’s Daniil’s girlfriend — the cute Russian over there, at the bar.” She pointed over to the smartly dressed Daniil who was mixing a cocktail for an opulent woman, coquettishly laughing, her face elaborately pulled and stretch into a permanent grin, seemingly pinned in place by two door knocker sized earrings. “She’s building up quite a reputation, and,” Julia leaned in close and whispered, “she was dirt cheap. I think it’s a lot of fun, no?”

“Of course! You know I love a bit of . . . quirk, but I’m not sure it’s sitting well with everyone here. I’m sure you understand — the majority of the benefactors here have a . . . traditional ear.” She didn’t shed her smile once during her not at all veiled reproval. “Perhaps we could ask her to mix in some more . . . polished music.”

Julia smiled back and squeezed Ellen’s shoulder. “Of course, sweetie, I’ll have a chat with her.” She wanted to escape. “Is that Oliver over there? I think maybe you should go thank him personally. He didn’t RSVP, but he made up for it. The check he wrote could finance another wing with enough left over for a Porsche.”

“Ah! Yes, ok, darling. The party is lovely, really. I’ll be back.” She departed with a single air kiss. “Oliver! Oliver, my love.”

***

“Two more proseccos, please.” A tipsy young woman, red cheeked from a few hours of binge drinking free booze, forcefully planted the glasses she was carrying down on the bar, knocking one over. “Ah! Sorry, hun.”

Daniil cleaned up the minor spill and handed over two pre-poured flutes. The woman winked at him. “Do you get to come out and dance?”

“Afraid not. Just here to pour the drinks.”

“Ah! What a shame.” She stumbled off.

Next in line was a dapper young man, thirtysomething, slicked back blonde hair, sporting a confused look.

Daniil preempted his impending line of query. “Something wrong, sir?”

“No, not exactly, umm . . . I’m sorry, I’m sure you aren’t the person to ask about this, but . . . how do the garbage cans work in the men’s room?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, the floor is littered with paper towels, and the can . . . it looks like it’s closed, but there’s no pedal or lid or anything, I just, I . . .” he pulled a wad of paper towels from his blazer pocket and held them up to show Daniil. “ . . . I didn’t want to toss them on the floor, it seemed a bit rude.”

“Huh. Well, I’ll take those and let . . . someone know.” Daniil took the wet mess of paper from the man and looked around the room. He wasn’t looking for anyone in particular, he was actually confused himself now. Who was he meant to ask about this?

“Thank you. And, I’d love a pinot grigio, please.”

***

It was the first time the entire evening there hadn’t been a queue. Daniil sighed in relief and turned to the intern who had been brought up to help out behind the bar. He didn’t remember his name. “Fuck, man, this night is never ending.”

Erick returned from the men’s room. The three of them hadn’t known what to do about the purported mess so they decided it would be fastest to handle it themselves. Erick discreetly grabbed up a flute of prosecco and, crouched down behind the bar, downed it. Daniil did the same, taking a knee beside Erick. “So, what goes on in there?”

“Well, I walked in on Mr. Blomqvist doing a key bump at the urinal.” They both laughed. “But, yeah, the whole floor was covered. He was right, it was confusing. It’s metal and there’s an odd light shining on it. It looks totally solid. It’s a weird trick, or it’s ovedesigned or something. I don’t know. Even I was confused. I just gathered them up and tossed them all in. They went in. There’s no problem.”

Daniil grabbed an open bottle from a box beside them and filled up his and Erick’s glasses. “I need a cigarette.”

“If you want to run out for a smoke do it now, we can cover for you.” Erick downed his second glass and stood. The intern, who had gotten antsy, had wiped down the bar and neatly arranged the pre-poured chardonnay and merlot so they stood evenly. As Daniil reached for his pack in his backpack concealed beneath the bar he was forced to halt by the clinking of glass in the distance. Tink, tink, tink, tink.

“Shit . . . pour more prosecco.”

The entirety of the board stood at the center of the swarm of patrons and other invited guests, obscured by the crowd and their phones, now filming. From where they stood the boys at the bar couldn’t see what was going on, but they could place voices well enough to faces.

“I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for being here tonight as we celebrate the life and work and legacy of Raymond Gerecke.” That was Julia. There was thunderous applause. One of the younger guests whooped. She continued: “This museum, this inaugural exhibition, it would not have been possible without the support of all those gathered here. Your generous gifts, and the access to your respective collections have made this all happen, and I — well, the board and I, we are immensely grateful.”

Julia continued along these lines for quite some time. Occasionally a member of the board, all of them now very tipsy, would interject, adding some bit of information or just a bad joke. As she spoke a number of the guests had broken away from the crowd to grab drinks, or to sojourn to the peripheries of the assemblage to carry on with the conversations they had previously been having before the speech had begun. In a far corner of the gallery three younger women stood giggling and sloshing their wine around as their conversation became increasingly more animated.

It was Ellen’s turn to speak now. “When I was approached about chairing the board and presented with the opportunity to work in service to the founding of this magnificent museum I was so deeply honored. I didn’t know Raymond for long, but I will cherish the time that I was blessed to spend with him. I was overjoyed when I heard he would be coming to my home to oversee . . .”

The giggling girls had squeezed in tight in front of a massive piece mounted to the wall behind them. A loan from the collection of an American actor. It was a rebar and concrete construction that was adorned with feathers, glass shards, and nail files that the placard beside it described as a commentary on the prison industrial complex. They were trying to all get into frame for a selfie, posing, shooting, looking, primping, shooting again.

“Perhaps a bit selfishly, I was ecstatic that Raymond had specified that he wished for this space to be built here in our community. I really feel that the Village provides an excellent and clean backdrop for this, his final and most enduring work.”

The girls were dissatisfied with their photos so far. “Lets try one more with flash maybe? And Rebecca, maybe scooch down just a bit, like, kneel — but just slightly. Yeah! Ok, get down between us.” They were shushed by an elderly gentleman standing not too far from them. The girls all rolled their eyes at one another.

Ellen had no off switch. “Wandering the galleries of the Museum you will see and feel Raymond’s hand and vision everywhere. His attention to detail and the emotion and effort invested in the project are immediately evident and simply invigorating.”

The girls, now posed as they thought most befitting the frame and their individual features, stared into the lens of an outstretched phone’s camera. They clicked, a light flashed, and they stepped away to examine the image. Upon stepping away from the piece, just a foot or so, it came crashing down, splitting into a number of pieces. One of the girl’s, unfortunately, jumped a bit, backwards, startled, and tore her dress on a sharp protrusion of rebar.
The entire party looked on at the commotion upon a rapid and communal turn of heels. There were gasps and the muttered utterances of profanity. So quick had attentions been reconcentrated that the phones that had been recording the speeches were now trained on the wreckage; a seamless transition. Julia and Ellen rushed over, first to make sure the girls weren’t harmed, but, realizing no one was hurt, they let rip an outpouring of anger and lambastment. The girls, of course, insisted they hadn’t touched the piece. But how, Julia asked, rhetorically, the fuck could the piece simply have fallen off the wall?

***

The first six months following the Museum’s opening saw every time slot for visitation booked solid. People began selling their tickets online for outrageous sums of money, which prompted the Museum to require identification from all visitors. The mishap at the opening reception had made headlines in a number of local publications and internationally on art blogs and in magazines. The matter had been handled by the museum and the insurer and it had quickly faded into the ephemeral trash heap of content past. The Museum; however, had begun to build a sort of a unsavory reputation, all rather hush hush.

Architecturally, the space was lauded. The exhibitions were of the highest standard, with a retrospective of Gerecke’s early performance works from earlier in his career, when he worked in Paris under the nom de plum Rayon de Guerre, drawing considerable praise. The immaculately curated timelines and stories of the art set were awash in photos and videos of the museum, the work, captioned with exuberant prose celebrating the Museum, the man, the work, the experience, the blessings, the overall genius. The Museum was beloved. That said, there was chatter about a sense of unease and even nausea that some felt while within the Museum, moving between its galleries.

It happened almost daily that at least one visitor would faint in the main gallery of Building Two. At first it was assumed that it was simply that the crowds had perhaps been overwhelming, but further restricting the number of visitors per time slot didn’t fix the issue. It was during an afternoon viewing, maybe three weeks after the opening, that an elderly woman visiting with a gaggle of her friends simply dropped. Her friends hadn’t noticed until they had congregated in front of a small “bust” made up of bricks and tar, off in an adjoining gallery Noticing that one in their party was missing they scuttled back to the previous room and found their friend crumpled on the floor, encircled by distraught but hapless onlookers.

“You have elderly visitors, this simply isn’t acceptable. You have to keep the temperature at a more comfortable setting.” When the woman finally came too she wasn’t able to stand right away. A visitor services assistant had run off to the staff canteen to grab some water for her and when he returned the woman was being cradled by one of her friends, her cheeks marked my a few black strands of mascara stained tears. “I’m so embarrassed! How long was I out, Agnes?” She strained her eyes to look up at her friend who was propping her up. Agnes patted her on the shoulder and cooed:

“It was just a few minutes, Magda, hardly anyone saw anyway, it’s all ok. But really young man!” Agnes turned her attentions to the water bearing assistant. “My friend is right. It is very balmy in here. You really must be more considerate.”

“I’m still not able to see so well, I’m still dizzy.” Magda reached up towards her face. “Oh, damn! And where are my glasses?!” Everyone left standing in the gallery, the woman, Magda, Agnes and her other friends, the assistant, and a security guard scanned the floor. The glasses had skidded when Magda had fallen and they were off in a corner closest to the doorway into the next gallery. The security guard, having spotted them, rushed over and hunched down to examine them. When he noticing that one of the lenses was cracked he made a pained ingressive shhhhhh-ing sound and let out a little groan.

“What? What, are they broken?” Madga was furious and attempted and failed to right herself.

“Magda please, stay where you are. Well? Are the glasses broken?” Agnes effected a righteous indignation and cast a steely gaze in the direction of the security guard.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am. One of the lenses has cracked.” The security guard walked over and handed the glasses over to one of Magda’s other friends. They all took turns admonishing the security guard, the visitor services assistant, and eventually a supervisor who was summoned by walkie talkie, and the women eventually left with an assurance that the temperature would be more suitably regulated and that the Museum would happily pay to replace her damaged lens.

It had been a particularly hot summer and the autumn too had been unseasonably warm. The air conditioning was set at a lower temperature, but still, the fainting spells continued. What was most perplexing, though, was that those who fainted all did so in more or less the same spots. Near to the arched doorways which all aligned so that, compounded by gold-tinted mirrored walls at either end of the gallery, there was a sense that the arches went on forever. The employees of the museum joked that Gerecke was haunting the place; maybe hitting people over the head to knock them out. No one was seriously harmed. A few did bump their heads as they hit the ground, but it was never any worse than that, and they weren’t unconscious for very long,

There were minor annoyances as well. For the first three months not a day went by where the bathroom floors were not covered in paper towels. It got so bad that the board decided to have signs installed specifying that the waste receptacles were indeed functional. It took two meetings and several rewrites to agree upon the exact wording of the sign. Foreign tourists unable to read said signs still tossed trash on the floor or into the toilets which often clogged. Maintenance got sick of having to continually pick up after people and, for a while, just moved a large and ugly wheeled industrial trash can into each bathroom. This worked perfectly, but the board found out about it and forced the janitors to remove them as they were “not in keeping with the aesthetic of the museum, and detract from the cohesion and simple elegance of the architecture.” That memo took far less time to compose.

Gerecke had designed the walls to slant slightly upward in what was assumed to be a sort of attempt at forced perspective, and within the interior of the building the heights of the rooms were exaggerated. The architectural critic of the City’s biggest daily paper had noted and gushed over the effect. Nowhere was this dramatic reaching more evident than in the lobby. It was a broad space, open, framed by a staircase which spiraled all the way around the perimeter of the lobby up to the top floor. Light filtered in from the smokey glass of the skylight, and when the sun shone through to the floor below is was dappled in a saturated yellow glow.
The stairs, all the stairs, were rather steep, and lit by lights embedded in the rise of each step, varying in brightness to create an ever shifting, and blinking, luminescent gradient. As visitors climbed them to reach the upper floors they often stumbled a bit as they attempted to navigate the shifts. While lovely, and even though the landings were popular spots for photographs (and once a marriage proposal) something about the combined effects of all of these severe elements frequently resulted in nausea.

A young boy, around eight, had been running up and down the steps. He had been dragged along to the museum by his parents, his Saturday ruined. He was terribly bored. His parents ignored his playing, oblivious to the fact that he had nearly knocked a number of visitors down as they descended, while he was attempting to keep himself entertained. Finally, he was forced to stop. He was wobbling where he stood.

“Mom. Mom!” He tugged at his mother’s blouse to get her attention. She and her husband were deep in conversation, each offering up their own opinions of a mobile that hung down from the ceiling and dangled above the lobby below. From where they stood on the third story landing they were able to observe it in its entirety. The boy’s mother didn’t bother to look down at the boy.

“Elias, please, give us just a minute. It’s not my favorite of his, but it is moving, y’know? The lack of whimsy, the . . . industrial materiality, it’s totally unlike, say, Calder. It’s more . . . masculine, for sure.” Her addressing her son was just a blip in the conversation.

More often than not the nausea provoked by the stairs was simply felt and ignored, rarely ever voiced. Frequently, those who experienced vertigo would take a seat on one of the number of steps to rebalance themselves before continuing upwards. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion a handful of visitors were so overwhelmed by the heights and unevenness of the space that they became very sick. Had Elias’ mother taken the time to look back at her son she would have noticed that all color had drained from his face. 

“Mom, please.” Elias’ voice was a meek whisper. He was teetering.

Elias’s father chimed in this time. “Elias, just give us a minute and we’ll head to the cafe, and you can have a hot chocolate, buddy. I don’t know. I mean, you know what they say. If you can’t make it good make it big. I’m not really sure this is deserving of such a prominent place of display.”

“I’m not feeling well.”

There was an audible gag, and then a retching. Finally breaking from their rambling of art speak, Elias’ parents caught sight of their son, gripping the polished brass railing that wound seamlessly upward. He doubled over and vomited  — profusely.

“My god, Elias! No, no no no no.” His mother ran over to try and peel him from the railing. Elias was sobbing between acidic french fry flavored expulsions. His parents watched in horror as the mobile below them was coated in sick, which dripped downward at now wailing visitors below. By the time he had emptied his stomach and collapsed to the floor, curled into a fetal position a number of guards and doscents had made their way up to the landing and were reprimanding Elias’ parents who stood shocked and mortified. Mom was trying to drag Elias to his feet. Dad was doing his best to apologize.

“I’m so sorry. I can’t believe this. He must have eaten something that didn’t agree with him at lunch, or maybe he’s coming down with something. Oh my god. We were looking forward to this for weeks, I’m so embarrassed. Elias! On the mobile? Fuck! That is art! They’re going to have to clean that now.”

“We’re going to have to shut down to clean that now. Please, please, you are going to have to leave.”

***

By the Museum’s second anniversary tickets no longer had to be timed, and the board was struggling to keep donations in pace with the necessary repairs. The once delicate trees that surrounded the buildings had grown quickly and the respective roots were far reaching, causing the lower panels to crack or to fall off. The rusting effect that had so delighted critics and neighbors had rendered the slabs of concrete an unappealing brown, and as panels were replaced the building became a dingy mismatched discolored patchwork.

Two middle-aged joggers, a couple in matching neon tracksuits had stopped in front of the Museum.

“It’s an eye-sore, Henrik. Such a disappointment. I don’t care what you say.” Clara, Henrik’s wife, was aghast that he should defend this blight.

“Well, as I said, you have to look at it as art. It’s . . . how do they call it . . . it’s a durational work. It’s aging. I mean, if you think about it it’s a lovely sentiment.”

Clara shook her head. “It is a sentiment that belongs in the city. Not here.” She pointed at the caution tape at a bare spot where the concrete had not yet been replaced. “That? That is some artistic statement?”

“Well . . .” Henrik struggled here. “Sure. It’s a living building. It’s living art. We age, it ages. It’s a . . . humanist building.”

“The topiaries were hardly worth this. Come on, I can’t stand to look at it anymore.”

Clara darted off and Henrick sprinted to catch up to her. As they continued along side by side Clara picked up where they had left off in their previous conversation, complaining about how the cleaning woman had forgotten to dust the top of the refrigerator again.

***

“You’re empty Britt.” Christian twisted the top off from the bottle of cheap rose he was holding. Britt had her headphones in and hadn’t heard him. He tapped her on the shoulder and laughed.

“What did you say?”

“You’re empty. Here, have some more.” He poured generously, nearly reaching the rim of the cheap plastic cup they’d picked up at the convenience store at the Station back in the City.

“Ah, too much. Stop.” Britt pushed the bottle away and Christian and their friend Ali giggled. “We’re going to finish it all off before we get there. We’ll have nothing when we head back.”

The train chugged along, lolloping past tree farms and some scattered homes. Ali had no such inclination towards moderation. “Top me off, I’m dry.”

Christian filled up her glass and closed the bottle, shoving it back into his backpack. The train was pulling into the next station. Some small town he was unfamiliar with. “How much longer?”

Britt, who had been sipping at her wine, swallowed hard. She looked down at the phone in her lap. “It’s 12:15 now, so . . . 25 minutes maybe?”

Ali downed the entirety of her cup and put it down on the empty seat beside her. “I’m gonna nap then. Wake me when we get there.”

Britt put her other headphone back in and returned to what she was listening to, rewinding to where she had been interrupted. She had found a video of the last lecture Gerecke had given. It had been just a few months before his death, and he’d been invited to speak to an assembly at the City’s Art Academy. The quality of the footage wasn’t great, but Britt thought he looked haggard and frail. She watched on the phone’s small screen as some attendant or teacher’s assistant rushed through the auditorium to hand off the microphone to a student.

“Mr. Gerecke, it’s such a privilege to have you here, and thank you for calling on me. I’m a huge fan of your work.”

Gerecke grunted in recognition of the statement.

“You were just speaking about the . . . um, the disparity between activist art and the reality of the art world; the affluence of collectors and the, well, I feel personally, the complicity of the institutions in that. You know, for us, as people aspiring to sit where you are sitting now, those of us with similar aims, what do you think we should keep in mind, or rather, what can we do to ensure the integrity of our work?”

Gerecke smiled and took up his mic, shaking as he brought it up to his mouth. “Well, honestly . . . I don’t really know exactly what to tell you. I don’t have any, um . . . warm fuzzy words”

A few laughs wrung out from the dimly lit audience.

“It’s really just . . . it is what is is. This reality — it’s the system we are forced to operate within, right? And I would be a hypocrite to tell you that you should just . . . uh, forgo that path. I mean, you, all of you, are entitled to a career and to comfort. I think . . . I still believe in the same things. I am as righteously indignant as I think I ever have been, and I think as you age, sure, you may more easily, and understandably, put the reality of it all ahead of your beliefs. The fact is you do have to make a living, right? But, I’m really old now.” More laughs.

“I can say this. You get to a point where the mentality, the rigidity of age sort of drops away. I think you sort of ‘come to faith,’ as it were. My faith has always been in the . . . this struggle. I grew up working class and I still find myself uncomfortable with the circles I have to move in, or chose to move in, I guess. It’s all a choice. Y’know . . . work for you. If you can find a way to make your work while fighting back, if you get that opportunity, take it. People are going to see what they want to see. That’s lesson one for you all. You won’t be next to your work all the time, right? People will read into it what they want. Know your intentions, and . . . have fun with that. If people are fawning, just . . . take the money and run. They’ll think one thing, and it can be something totally different than what you were going for, but you will know what you were trying to get across. If you want to kowtow to it, that’s easy. If you get to a position like I’ve enjoyed, that’s the path of least resistance. But, if you want to fight you can. I don’t think anyone will catch on. Fuck ‘em. You will find ways to fight back if that’s what you want. Your say is the last say whether it is heard or not. Does that answer your question?”

Johnny Taranto is a co-founder and co-director of Hypergraphic Writers Workshop. He lives in Harlem and works as a visual artist and author of creative fiction. Recent efforts have sought to explore such themes as contemporary American urban life as experienced by lofty aspirants from blue-collar backgrounds, as well as heritage, and isolation within the -topian world; neither dys-, nor u-.

Read more from Digital Issue No. 16

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, The New Engagement in print.

Order Today!

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.