Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Let Them Eat (Warhol) Hot Dogs. Or: Wrap It Up

Raining today. Spring, finally. And it’s raining. Definitely not a beach day. Actually I like the rain. I like the fact that it’s Passover and there’s way less competition for the $1 bagged up bagels at Food Emporium. Which makes you think it’s not the economically challenged who buy these, but maybe the Jews.

There’s an anecdote someone told me once—about this Hassidic guy who was walking down the street on the Sabbath and there right on the sidewalk was a twenty. Crisp, new paper with old Andrew Jackson just staring him in the Jew eye. And he stops—dead like a time-freeze-- because it’s the Sabbath and he can’t handle money. But he can’t handle the concept of this bill on the street, easy money. And which will win? I forget the story. Maybe he decides it’s a sign from God—a gift, like manna. Or maybe it’s like Jewish temptation. Maybe he stands there until sundown when he can pick it up.

I don’t mean to dis Jews. It is just the religious taboo thing, and the Hassidic silhouette that seems compelling. But it is anyone, I think, who has the genetics of poverty in their DNA. Such people are always having to publicly thumb their nose at the extravagance of life as a regular person, toss gold coins to the wind, or fretting perpetually about every single cent that could potentially have been saved and invested. Or all of the above.

Trust me. I have been in the homes of people whose names are on the plaques of some very big institutions. I have seen their twenty-year-old underwear that they keep for when no one is looking, seen them watch their cleaning ladies with an eagle-eye to make sure they do not not use more than one can of tunafish for their lunch. And not too much mayonnaise. It’s expensive.

Trust me, because I am currently and perhaps forever warped by poverty. Forget about clothing. Sales no longer tempt me; fashion does nothing. It is the essentials. I can’t pass a 99-cent store in East Harlem without checking the price of a gallon of Tide. And here’s the thing: I will use generic everything—Corn Flakes, Crisp Rice, Oatmeal, toilet paper, butter, yoghurt, whatever. But detergent? Rhymes with Pride. Like a superstition. Where I draw my personal line.

On the other side, you have this culture of extreme greed going on in Manhattan. Not just excessive, vulgar amassing of assets, but competitive greed. Like competitive eating. We have competitive stock portfolios, hedge funds, Art Auctions where these people stand up and make outrageous bets on objects they have been advised will compound geometrically. Even though they couldn’t tell a Picasso from a Basquiat. And check this out: I would estimate 90 percent of the so-called art experts couldn’t tell a real from a fake Basquiat if they were held at gunpoint. And Warhol? Don’t get me started. The posthumous Warhol market.

There is just so much available real estate in New York City. They have built up, down and to the very edge. Now there is the Real Estate of Art. Soon you will be able to search online Sotheby’s and Christie’s catalogues by size, period, price-range, color. We already have the Pre-war and Postwar. That makes art user-friendly for the nouveau competitive consumers.
There are one or two contemporary artists who mock the masters—who forge, dissemble….I have even noticed in the last auction, the Miro look-alikes actually sold for more than the real Miros. The Art Advisors had to be working overtime for this deal. And is it that these people are mocking themselves? Or do they think that paying $500,000 for a Warhol mockery actually swindles the average cocktail party guest into believing you have the 6 million dollar Warhol. And it’s not a fake, or a forgery, it is a smart-Warhol. You are so hip. And no hotdogs on your hors d-oeuvres platter. Oh, no.

Just like the winner of the Nathan’s contest is the skinny Asian guy, there are very few fat people in the competitive greed game. Well—he is a true athlete, while they have to work out and stay on diets because God-forbid they should be guilty of the sin of gluttony which I always thought was a form of greed. One and the same. Consumer-itis.

But it is Passover: the season where something is given up. And Lent. No major art auctions until this is over and the season of greed can resume full-tilt. No competitive eating because that would be crossing religious barriers.

At least the people wolfing down hotdogs, as opposed to the art collectors, are eating real meat. Kosher meat, because no one is ethnically excluded from this contest, except of course the vegans. Maybe they’ll be protesting, this July 4th….that is, if there is still a Coney Island…if the Donald Trumps have not bought it out with mega-billions for development so the kids from the Housing Projects will have to crash the beach and risk arrest just for the privilege of looking at the ocean.

Or maybe Christo will come and wrap the whole thing up and then the hedge funds can convince their customers they’re investing in art and pay by the square inch. Because competitive investors will always pay a little more for something they can’t quite understand. Since they raised the MOMA admission price to exclude schmucks like me, crowds are breaking records. And for a few billion dollars, you can get a seat on their board and perpetual free admission. Will it make you more cultured? Doubtful. And when the value of your art portfolio falls into the negative territory it belongs in, maybe you can sell it for enough to afford an inflated hotdog for a newly-homeless vagrant in Coney Island.

1 comment:

Billy said...

I can't afford the museums anymore either...Billy