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Revenge of the Drop Cloth
(writer's note: Sorry for the length of this piece. It's really a tired old
joke carried to
extremes - but there are some interesting people. I thought
you'd like to meet them.)
"Words can not describe how thoroughly and profoundly I hate Agatha
"It is a hate that begins at the soles of my feet and eats a corrosive path
all the way up to a point just between my eyes. From there it spreads through
my sinuses, my vision blurs, my hands clench spasmodically, and all I can think
of is strangling her."
"Every gallery owner, indeed every artist hates and fears Agatha
Glenville-Jones, but none as intensely as I, Gerhardt Schwitzer. She is
satisfy, and because of her long tenure as art critic for the New York Times,
has grown to be a gorgon, a harridan! A grudging nod of acceptance from this
woman is worth a thunderstorm of bravos from everyone else. But not this time
-- not this afternoon. Here in the Flick Gallery, Agatha Glenville-Jones will
be astonished to see the finest exhibit of non-representational paintings ever
assembled. I shall rub her witch like nose into each and every one."
"This afternoon at four, I will stand illuminated in the soft ambient track
lighting of the Flick gallery and accept the envious applause from the curators
of Guggenheim and Moma; from the skinny hipped Soho crowd and the smart ass
know-it-alls from TriBeca. Yes, even the fancy Dans along 57th Street will eat
humble crow -- RAW!! But! Most important of all, Agatha Glenville-Jones will
be overwhelmed with envy; she will consume herself with jealousy!"
"Agatha! That bitch from the Times."
It is difficult for most of us to understand the maniacal hatred that burned
within Gerhardt Schwitzer. "Non-representational" is a seven syllable word,
and as usual, the more syllables a word has, the less sense it makes. In the art
world it has come to mean paintings and drawings that do not represent
anything in particular. A person can stare at such a painting all day and find
nothing recognizable in it. The works of man and nature quickly give way to
and circles, idle dribbling, smears and occasional violent splotches of
poorly applied paint. Non-representational painting might be compared to the
of sound an unruly child might make if he found himself in a piano store.
The pretense is perpetuated by a gaggle of critics and sycophants who approve
or disapprove by means of obscure and misleading reviews in the press. Agatha
Glenville-Jones is their high priestess and her endorsement or rejection of
non-representational paintings will make or break them. Gerhardt Schweitzer has
been humiliated by Agatha Glenville-Jones again and again. His last exhibit
of Cynthia Cornball's non-representational paintings were casually condemned by
Agatha in her best elliptical manner:
"In the tactile, talkative canvasses of Cynthia Cornball, a 49-year-old Bay
Area artist, the idea of painting as an accumulative, notational process
paralleling the mundaneness, tragedies and passing thoughts of every-day life is
initially quite engaging. Yet, Ms. Cornball's mixed words and images on
beautifully worked surfaces, conflating reading and looking backwards --
He never forgave her for that. It ruined the exhibit and infuriated the Board
of Directors of the Flick Gallery. He personally overheard casual visitors
"Ah yes, initially quite engaging, don't you think?"
"Yes, tactile as well, but in the end, a rather notational process -- I think
it eventually palls, don't you?"
Gerhardt was humiliated, and he swore that if he could get his hands around
Agatha's wrinkled turkey neck he would wring it dry.
The new exhibit was not an easy one for Gerhardt. The Flick's telephone bill
had been in five figures for six months.
"Temperamental artists!" He explained to the board of directors. "Gottfried
Dove will not show on the same wall as Joshua Nevinson. Abraham Walkover
requires UV shields on all the fluorescent lamps. Schmidt-Rottlift wants his
canvasses to be as close to the gallery entrance as possible."
As a matter of fact, they were so large they were shipped like rolled up
carpeting and had to be stretched and framed when they arrived. Gottfried Dove,
Joshua Nevinson, and Abraham Walkover, wanted to attend the reception, but only
if none of the others attended. Schmidt-Rottlift preferred to remain in his
atelier in Schleswig-Holstein, but he wanted the proceedings videotaped.
Eventually, all the idiosyncrasies and the clashing egos had been smoothed over
the prospect of world recognition and the promised appearance of Agatha
Glenville-Jones at the press opening.
On another note, and to complicate matters still further, the Board of
Directors of the Flick Gallery decided to redecorate the cafeteria during
preparations for the exhibit. They contracted with Lou Diglio and Milo
Callahan who jointly owned the DC Painting and Decorating Company. The gay
of the new color scheme devised by Shapiro Decorators was in stark contrast to
the severe dark gray and white partitions of the exhibit area.
Lou and Milo were known in the painting trade as "Saturday" painters (a
synonym for clumsiness). Lumbering across the cafeteria floor, Milo tripped and
fell face down in the middle of the drop cloth carrying a gallon of "Sunrise"
yellow in one hand and a gallon of midnight purple in the other. Lou did his
to help him stand, but in doing so, lost his balance and found himself
sitting in the middle of the midnight purple. They used the splotched and
drop cloth to wipe their shoes and paint-spattered overalls, which was
finally rolled up and discarded by the clumsy twosome on the receiving dock of
Flick Gallery on the very same day the canvasses of Schmidt-Rottlift arrived by
Although Schmidt-Rottlift had shipped four of his giant canvasses, Gerhardt
was surprised to discover five in the basement framing room. He checked his
bill of lading and decided that Schmidt-Rottlift must have sent an extra
painting. But, like a nettlesome seed of discontent, there was something about
the canvasses that unsettled him. The technique was completely different from
Schmidt-Rotlift's usual temperate hand, and its choice of color was full of
gay abandon and strangely similar to the decor in the new cafeteria -- a light
snapped on and he realized the origin of the fifth painting! His artistic
temperament, long suppressed by his vendetta with Agatha Glenville-Jones,
him to the fact that he was in possession of a rare and deadly instrument of
revenge. He smiled -- an obscene smile, like that on the face of the cat who
stands between the mouse and its hole.
A sharp-eyed person, even one with fine arts training would be hard pressed
to separate a Jackson Pollack from the doodling of a backward child. In the
somewhat narrow field of non-representational painting, accidental daubing,
haphazard smudges and stains can easily be mistaken for creativity. There was
little artistic difference between the canvasses of Schmidt-Rottlift and the
cloth of Lou Diglio and Milo Callahan
Gerhardt, in consultation with Igor, the myopic framer and stretcher, went
full speed ahead and he prepared all five giant canvasses for the exhibit, including the drop cloth of the DC Painting and Decorating Company. At the same
time, Gerhardt sent invitations to Lou Diglio and Milo Callahan, congratulating
them on the successful redecoration of the Flick Gallery's new cafeteria.
On reception day, promptly at four, the minor critics began to arrive. They
were uncommunicative and reluctant to pass judgment on anything until Agatha
Glenville-Jones arrived. It would be suicidal to wax enthusiastic about a work
that Agatha would denounce later. Knowing she would be the last to arrive, all
of them huddled together at the bar talking in subdued tones.
"Who are those two over there? I think one of them must be Schmidt-Rottlift."
"I'm sure it is. I've seen him before. God! I didn't think anyone wore
corduroy jackets these days."
". . . and the shoes on the stout one! Look at his shoes. Down at the heels
I'd say. Splattered with paint -- I'll bet he was wearing them when he painted
that big one with the splotch of yellow."
"Neanderthal, isn't he? But I must say the painting has a charm about it ...
you know, balanced by that big purple blob." He blushed as the others looked
at him aghast to think he would dare comment on a painting before Agatha
"Anyone seen Agatha yet?"
It went on like this for the better part of an hour. They would occasionally
leave the refreshment table en-masse and make a hesitant circuit of the
gallery, avoiding Lou and Milo.
Lou and Milo stood in front of their drop cloth in obvious confusion. Lou was
all for beating a hasty retreat, "When are they gonna check out the cafeteria
-- I thought all this fuss was for the new cafeteria?"
Milo was more patient. "Relax, Lou. Have another one of these cocktails.
Martinis I think they calls em' They're good -- got quite a kick. I had four
Gerhardt shot his cuff and consulted his gold Rolex, and to no one in
particular, he stated, "Shouldn't be long now, it's almost five." He was sure
pulse rate was over two hundred. A visible film of nervous perspiration began at
the crown of his bald spot and trickled down his nose. His Armani shirt,
freshly laundered, was now clinging to his chest like a mustard plaster, and he
could feel the sweat from his underarms running down his sides. "Damn her!" he
thought. Would she never get here?"
In her own sweet time she did. At precisely 5:30 the double doors to the
gallery were flung open and Ignatz, her scribe, looking this way and that,
carrying his black leather notebook, then he stood to one side to make way
for her. He was followed almost immediately by Agatha Glenville-Jones. She was
dressed in a multi-layered black afternoon tea gown and wore a wide brimmed hat
similar to those worn by leading ladies of the silver screen in the twenties.
Although she did not smoke she carried a foot long black and gold tooled
cigarette holder, which she used as a pointer. She would occasionally rap Ignatz
on the shoulder with it, and he would write her last observation in his
notebook. Ignatz could have carried a tape recorder, but such instruments record
good and the bad. Agatha wanted only the good. Her statements would find their
way into tomorrow's art review in the Times.
Gerhardt extended both arms like a maitre-de and rushed to greet her.
"Agatha, my DEAR, what a pleasant surprise! How considerate of you to drop in
to see my little exhibit -- may I get you a Martini?"
"I think not -- 'Seltzer', is it?" She stared with obvious distaste at the
huge display. "It's a peculiar trait of curators these days that when they have
nothing to say, they must say it louder." She gave him a twisted smile and
rapped Ignatz on the shoulder. He opened his notebook and began writing. "Stay
alert, Ignatz, I shall have much to say this afternoon."
The gaggle of critics began to gather in a semi-circle around Agatha
Glenville-Jones. Each of them carried a small notebook of his own. Whenever she
Ignatz on the shoulder, they too, would quickly make their notation. When
they returned to their desks in the evening, they would tailor their remarks to
agree with hers.
She was in rare form this afternoon and by the time she reached the drop
cloth, Ignatz had already filled six pages with vintage venom and vitriol.
Gerhardt followed meekly behind, his heart growing heavier. He cringed as he
the words "presumptuous" and "arrogant." At one point, she turned so that her
voice could be heard by everyone in the room and loudly stated, "I wish all this
fuss and feathering was more worthy of my contempt -- but I fear we have
reached the nadir in non-representational painting, Mr. Schultzer. And after all
your fanfare -- how heartbreaking for you. You must be devastated." At this
point she rapped Ignatz sharply with her cigarette holder.
She hesitated at the drop cloth. Studied it closely at first, looked in the
lower right corner for the artist's signature, then stepped back to view it
from the other end of the room, where Lou and Milo stood with their Martinis.
Agatha turned to Gerhardt Schweitzer with barely disguised distaste, "Must we
have these workmen in the room, Mr. Schvetzer? ...why are they standing in
front of the only painting in the room worthy of my attention?"
Gerhardt, in a renewed burst of eager solicitation, dashed across the room
in panic and hustled Lou and Milo out of her way. "Gentlemen -- I beg you,
gentlemen -- please! Ms. Jones must have room to conduct her review. Would you
please step over here -- here by the elevator."
Milo, on his fifth Martini, piped up, "Wait'll y'see the new cafeteria, lady."
"A fresh page, Ignatz!" As Ignatz flipped to a new page, every reviewer in
the room did the same. A dozen or more ball point pens clicked sharply in
preparation. Gerhardt swallowed dryly and rubbed his sweating palms together.
"A sudden, and most welcome epiphany has emerged from the muck of this
non-representational debacle. It beggars description in literal terms -- it is
is, how shall I say? An 'Ode to Joy?' Perhaps. An innocent child's invention?
More than likely -- but a child of infinite talent. I feel -- I feel, how
shall I say -- like an Eve, cast into a garden of incalculable delight. I see
sun, rampant on a field of gray, and over there the purple of the night
approaches. The imprint of toddler's feet herald the approach of . . . of . . ."
Her glowing tribute to the DC Painting and Decorating drop cloth went on
without pause. Ignatz scribbled madly and turned page after page, gamely trying
keep up. The lesser reviewers did the same. The only sound in the gallery was
the deep contralto voice of Agatha Glenville-Jones and the rasping of the
ball point pens.
It was Gerhardt Schwitzer's big moment. "Are you finished Ms. Jones?" He
"Yes. Quite, Schwister. I assume you have photos of this piece. Please give
them to my assistant, I will need them for the Sunday spread."
"Ha! You are finished then!" Schweitzer stepped forward, and the track
lighting formed an aureole about his bald head. He removed a large handkerchief
his inside pocket and mopped his brow. "Let me tell you then, Ms. Jones, what
a fool you've made of yourself!" The corners of Agatha Glenville-Jones gimlet
eyes narrowed. Surely this idiot of a man would not have the effrontery to
question her expertise.
"Tread carefully, Schwelter. Do not cross swords with me, you are entering
"Ha! Once more, Ha!!" Schwitzer's mouth spread wide in a maniacal grin. "I've
got you! You fraud! Yes, you're a fraud, Agatha Glenville-Jones. A FRAUD!!"
He ran across the room and gesticulated wildly at the drop cloth of the DC
Painting and Decorating Company. "The two men standing over there by the
You see them Ms. Jones? They are Lou Diglio and Milo Callahan. HOUSE
PAINTERS!! HOUSE-fucking-PAINTERS!!! The non-representational painting you so
is the drop cloth they used when they painted the gallery's cafeteria! See!
Here is the imprint of of Mr. Diglio's backside, and there! There is where he
wiped his shoes! HA! And double HA!!" Again, Schweitzer mopped his face, which
had grown as red as a tomato. He looked over at the gaggle of critics huddled
together across the room. Most had dropped their pens and note pads. "You see,
gentlemen. She can't tell the difference between a painter's drop cloth and a
work of art!" They looked from Gerhardt Schweitzer to Agatha Glenville-Jones in
astonishment. Had the impossible happened? Had Schweitzer really exposed her?
If what he said was true, she would be the laughing stock of the
non-representational art world.
They had not reckoned on the resilience of Agatha Glenville-Jones. Like all
great charlatans, she was illusive as quicksilver, and as ingenious as a
She drew herself up to her full height, which matched that of Gerhardt
Schweitzer and smiled. First at him -- and then at the goggle eyed critics
the room. It was what is commonly known as a 'Mafia' smile, one usually given
with a pat on the shoulder to a condemned man.
"Mr. Sweltzer. I believe that is the German word for sweat, is it not? How
appropriate. Do you have any other means of livelihood, Sweltzer? I sincerely
hope so. You see what you've done, don't you?" She turned to the other critics.
"The poor man has dug his own grave you see. Your exhibit is so poor -- so
abysmal in concept and execution that a lowly painter's drop cloth outshines the
work of your four world-renowned artists of non-representational painting. I
pity you, Swelter ... I will be as objective as I can, but I suggest you turn
in your resignation to the Board of Directors before you read my review,
perhaps you can negotiate an amicable settlement before they have your hide."
turned to her assistant. "You needn't write that down, Ignatz."
As Gerhardt fumbled for a reply, murmurs of approval could be heard from the
other side of the room ...
"How did he ever think he'd get away with a trick like that?"
"Why, I knew it all the time, didn't you?"
"I thought you said you liked it?"
"Of course not old man, I saw through the subterfuge from the beginning."
"Well, he's a ruined man, that's for sure ... she'll tear his balls off."
With Ignatz trailing after her, she made her way slowly to the elevator, then
turned back and gestured with a barely perceptible motion of her hand. "Well,
gentlemen -- I believe there is nothing more to discuss. Mr. Schickster, I
know this must be a trying time for you. But surely, it is not too late to start
again -- a new career perhaps -- one that does not involve decision making."
Ignatz pushed the elevator button and the door opened immediately ... she was
The assembled critics closed their notebooks and put their pens away, and
now, they too, made their way towards the elevator at much the same unhurried
pace as Agatha had. They waited for the elevator to return, then the entire body
crowded their way aboard. Gerhardt stood like a wax figure in the middle of
the room. His eyes, however, seemed to dart from picture to picture while his
mouth slowly opened and closed as if he wished to speak but could not.
Milo Callahan and Lou Diglio stood forgotten in the exhibit hall. "Well we
won, Lou ... best drop cloth in the show. Got a sharp tongue, that Agatha broad
-- sharp eye too," Milo remarked as he finished off his fifth Martini and
fished out the olive.
"Boy, I'll say. Look at Mr. Schwitzer over there -- ain't nothin' left of
him." Lou glanced nervously at his watch. "Looks like nobody's gonna check out
the new cafeteria, I think we ought'a be runnin' along. You ever been to one of
these here openin's before, Milo?"
"No, I never. Don't know any of the paintin' companies here either. Must be
from outta town."
©Harry Buschman 2000
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