Up and Down the Social Ladder

I stumbled across this photo of Kira Nightly at the premiere of The Information Game all glammed-up and posing in her Dolce & Gabbana while some frumpy fans look on.

knightlyIt reminded me of this famous photo by Weegee which, having always been insecure about my place in society, never fails to stir my bile.

weegeeWeegee had intended this to be a social commentary but it was later proven to be a fake. The photo was staged. The two matrons were wealthy friends of Weegee and the urchin was brought up from the Bowery, plied with liquor and told to stand in that spot. She was the only one unaware of the ruse. Weegee was a smart guy. He got the expression on her face he needed. Because it has been discredited, the photo is said to have lost its power to incite, but I beg to differ. It still pisses me off a little bit every time I see it. For some reason, it always reminds of my mom. Isn’t that sad?

I was watching Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (which you should watch because it’s brilliant). In the episode with Kevin Hart, they were discussing growing up humble, as they did, versus growing up wealthy, as their children are. They had this prescient exchange:

Hart: “The things that made me into who I am, my kids will never experience.”

Seinfeld: “That’s right. It’s going to be different for them. Your problem was: Things are bad, I gotta make it good. Their problem is going to be: Things are good. Why do I feel bad?”

Scramble two, Jerry.

We took the girlies to Orlando over a school break. We visited Universal Studios. They’re too old for Disney princesses, but they’re in that sweet spot for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. An old, cynical crank would say that it’s a lot of this:

gringottsAnd this:

menuA $10 hot dog! At least you get crisps with it. You can buy all the soda you want while in the Universal theme park but once you enter into Hogwarts or Diagon Alley, it’s not available. You can get Butterbeer, water and juices, but no Coke. I was told that that was at J.K. Rowling’s insistence, which is marvelous. I love her.

I found that if you leave yo pretentious ass back in New York (which is no mean feat for a part-time snob like myself), you can be suitably impressed by the meticulous attention to detail and the superb execution of design. Like this big fella:

dragon1Pretty good and even more impressive in person. Every few minutes he belches a loud, powerful blast of fire. If you’re standing nearby, you can feel a wave of heat. It’s quite an accomplishment. Might be fun to smoke a big fatty and see this.

dragon2There were a lot of visitors from the UK. I mean, a LOT. Is this a big destination for you guys? I got into a fascinating discussion about succession with two travelers from Scotland. Two cute girls with accents that can melt an aged Anglophile.

Life is a carousel ride. Sometimes literally.


“Growing up is hard, especially for men, because that means you have to leave the best years of your life behind.”

Mike Tyson

The World’s Most Expensive Urinal

I don’t imagine this will be of interest to everyone but I find the subject endlessly fascinating. This is my fall contemporary art auction report. These auctions were held two weeks ago here in New York at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Prior to the auctions, you can visit the galleries and view the lots for free. It’s important to take it in because after the auction, they pass into private collections, never to be seen again.

My last post ended with a cliff-hanger so why don’t we address that first?

Robert Gober
Three Urinals
Estimate: $3,500,000 – $4,500,000
Lot Sold: $3,525,000

gober_urinal_sm I checked my local hardware store and you can get three urinals for about $1,000. I should have peed in one and said I was making an artistic statement and demand payment for my “work.”

I really like Francis Bacon. I came around to him rather late in life. Better late than never. It doesn’t say so explicitly in the title but this is a Pope. Or a Cardinal. I forget which.

Francis Bacon
Seated Figure
Estimate: $40,000,000 – $60,000,000
Lot Sold: $44,965,000

baconWarhol + Harry = LOVE IT. Warhol used metallic paint for many of these celeb paintings and the accent colors really POP when you see them in person. This was also signed by Debbie Harry. I wonder if that played into its value? [Fun fact: Debbie is performing her first show as a cabaret artist in the legendary Café Carlyle this spring. Yup. It’s come to that.]

Andy Warhol
Debbie Harry
Estimate: $2,500,000 – $3,500,000
Lot Sold: $3,077,000

Warhol_harryFor a long time, my least favorite artist was Jean-Michel Basquiat. I still don’t like his work (I’ll keep trying) but Robert Gober is my new least-favorite artist. He’s a charlatan, a fake and a flim-flam man. See that piece on the wall next to his urinal? Guess what that is?

drain1It’s this.

Robert Gober
Estimate: $300,000 – $500,000
Lot Sold: $293,000

drain2aThat’s it, folks. A drain stuck in the wall. A $293,000 drain. What a fraud.

Here are the two monsters. The ones that made it to the front page of The New York Times the next morning.

Andy Warhol
Triple Elvis [Ferus Type]
Estimate Upon Request
Lot Sold: $81,925,000

Andy Warhol
Four Marlons
Estimate Upon Request
Lot Sold: $69,605,000

warholEstimate Upon Request means they ain’t fucking around. There was a bench situated in front of these and I sat and stared for a while. Little did I suspect that I was looking at $150,000,000 worth of artwork.

This one was in the paper as well because it sold well beyond its pre-auction estimate. The peculiar thing is that unlike the oversized, big-ticket Warhols and Rothkos, this was a relatively small piece measuring just 11 5/8″ x 17 1/2″ (29.5 x 44.4 cm). I don’t mind it. It was vibrant. But not for that much.

Jasper Johns
Estimate: $15,000,000 – $20,000,000
Lot Sold: $36,005,000

johnsThis piece is huge. It measures 112 x 142 x 66 in. (284.5 x 360.7 x 167.6 cm). You don’t think this is supposed to be a gigantic…naaaa…no way.

Robert Morris
Vetti V
Estimate $150,000 – $200,000
Did Not Sell

morrisAnd speaking of Did Not Sell…this piece is from Damien Hirst, the fella who brought us a giant great white shark in a tank of formaldehyde and paintings made from butterfly wings.

Damien Hirst
Dog Days
Estimate: $500,000 – $700,000
Did Not Sell

hurst1Would you like to know what’s on all those shelves? It’s these:

hurst2I consider El Anatsue a bit of a genius. He’s a Ghanaian sculptor who makes these beautiful, flowing wall pieces. The Brooklyn Museum exhibited his work a couple of years ago and I still haven’t caught my breath.

El Anatsue
Man’s Cloth II
Estimate: $700,000 – $1,000,000
Lot Sold: $989,000

anatsui1Here’s what his pieces are constructed of:

anatsui2He collects thousands of aluminum bands from wine and beer bottles and painstakingly connects them using copper wire. He’s very intentional about the distribution of color and texture. His work shimmers.

I’ve always been a fan of Mark Rothko and this is one of the best pieces I’ve ever seen by him. I stood there and just let it wash over me. Sometimes, bigger IS better.

Mark Rothko
No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange)
Estimate Upon Request
Lot Sold: $44,965,000

rothkoPart of what fascinates me about these auctions is just how subjective they are and how some super-wealthy people can be talked into liking works with questionable merits. This is by Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei, who I’m actually a fan of, but maybe not so much in this instance. It’s a pile of…

Ai Weiwei
He Xie
Estimate: $600,000 – $800,000
Lot Sold: 605,000

wiwi1…porcelain crabs, of course..

wiwi2I’d been indifferent towards Adolph Gottlieb’s work, neither liking nor disliking it, but I turned a corner and was gobsmacked with this. The photo is inadequate. It’s the perfect balance of color and shape, one playing off the other. I love when this happens. When an artist’s intent is suddenly revealed to you. I’ll have to reconsider my indifference.

Adolph Gottlieb
Red and Blue
Estimate: $2,000,000 – $3,000,000
Lot Sold: $2,165,000

gottliebI’ve got a few more but I’ll stop with this lot. I think it’s an appropriate coda. It’s by Christopher Wool and even though he didn’t title it, I think we can surmise from the content, what someone paid for it and the overall spirit of these auctions what the title should be.

Christopher Wool
Estimate: $12,000,000 – $18,000,000
Lot Sold: $14,165,000


Bonus Track. I accidentally took this while walking through Sotheby’s. I flipped the pic 180° and like the effect. I look like I’m walking towards myself. How meta.

Estimate Upon Request.


Isn’t this how they found Elvis?

It’s been a while since I stripped back a layer of skin so here’s another entry from my journals. In this painful episode, I get sick and then sign the lease that changed my life.

January 5, 1993

I drank half a bottle of white wine by myself and woke up the next morning violently ill with a pounding headache and a terrible stomach cramp. I couldn’t even get out of bed to put the stereo on. Finally, out of necessity, I got dressed, crawled to the bathroom and sat on the commode for a long while. That’s when things got much worse. I was overwhelmed with a fever and BLACKED OUT. I came-to on the floor with my pants and underwear around my ankles and the cats staring at me. (No, guys, not dead yet.) I had pitched forward and fell off the toilet. I’m lucky I didn’t crack my head on the tub.

There was feces everywhere. I peeled off my clothes and took a scolding hot shower. Afterwards, I cleaned the bathroom, carefully placed my clothes in a garbage bag, double-bagged it and set it in the hallway. I looked at myself in the mirror and my skin looked like alabaster.

Kay phoned. I was supposed to go to her place but I told her I was too sick. I left out the pretty details. She said she was sorry and told me to call later if I felt better.

I went back to bed and fell into a deep, deep sleep. Woke up a half day later and still had a pounding headache but the stomach cramp was gone, thank God. I made a medicinal bacon/fried egg/cheese sandwich, phoned Kay and was at her apartment by 7:00. We sat on her sofa, made out and watched the college bowl games. White wine tastes and smells like a headache to me now. [Note: Miraculous recuperative powers are long gone, but I still never touch white wine.]

I’m signing the lease on the Lower East Side apartment tomorrow. Cindy is going to boil two lobsters in celebration, the poor things. What the hell am I DOING?! Am I insane? It’s affordable but Clinton Street is nothing but junkies, whores and gunshots. It’s nighttime, 24-hours a day. The liquor store on the corner has a thick, Plexiglas bullet proof booth that you step into. You tell them what you want, they fetch it and put it on a turntable. That’s AFTER you give them the money, of course. I can’t invite anyone over!

The building was built in 1939 and is in great shape. Many art deco flourishes. The apartment is remarkable. Two bedrooms, 900 square feet with hardwood parquet floors and a step-down living room. And it’s a real two bedroom. They didn’t construct a plywood wall in a bedroom and call it two. There’s an unobstructed view of the sky out the front and you can see the tops of the World Trade Center towers from the bedroom. The rent is $511.20/month and it’s rent stabilized, so it’ll only go up 3-4% annually. Howard said I should take all the money I’m saving and invest in a cemetery plot.

The previous tenant died of AIDS. The refrigerator was stocked-full of medications and concoctions. There was box of hypodermics in the cupboards. I wonder how much I can get for them outside?

Everyone at work is talking about their upcoming vacations. One is going to Colorado skiing. Another is going to Margarita Island. My life is so slow and hopeless. I can’t say I envy those guys because they practically live at the office. Their hours are brutal and their work seems insufferably dull to me. But they make up for it when they’re off. Michele is worried because her career is on an upward trajectory but John is complacent and not professionally motivated. It bothers her. I should warn him that he’s about to be dumped.

Does complacent and not professionally motivated sound uncomfortably familiar? Bonnie said we should sit down and talk about “the career thing” (her words) after my move to Manhattan. I don’t know what to do with myself. I never went to school. I’m ashamed of where I live. Who’ll have me? I’m scared.

Epilogue: On January 22nd of this year, the apartment below mine sold as a condo.

Asking price: $990,000
Sale price: $1,085,000

I couldn’t afford to move back there if I wanted to. It’s an interesting arc; what once was to what now is. For Clinton Street and for me.

Here’s a tease for my next post. It’s time for my semi-annual Christie’s contemporary art auction report. My favorite! Wanna guess whether or not this lot sold?

Robert Gober
Three Urinals
Est.: $3,500,000–4,500,000


Bonus Track

Apartments in the iconic Dakota on 72nd and Central Park West never come on the market. They’re held by families for generation after generation. (Though still referred to as “apartments,” that’s a misnomer. They’re actually co-ops.)

Well, almost never.

Take a look at this fantasy. The description states: “Retained by the original owner since the 1960’s…” That original owner was Lauren Bacall, who passed away in August. This, brothers and sisters, is how I would choose to live, if the choice were mine to make. Apartment 43 in The Dakota.