Did I destroy this work of art?

Here’s an exhibit in a Chelsea art gallery. It’s a pile of stones on a table.

If I move one stone closer to another when no one is looking…

…have I altered the aesthetics in any discernable way?

I’m asking a serious question. Some pieces are made to be interacted with but I don’t think this was one of them. Artists are fastidious about their work, understandably so. Did I wreck this piece?



April 7, 1993

Last night I was going to stay home and do laundry but Betsy called and treated me to dinner at a French joint on the corner of King St. and 6th Avenue. She was already sitting at the bar when I got there. Our meetings are joyful. We have a nice time together. I ordered a scotch and soda. She had a Campari. The bar munchies were cod balls and octopus. We shared a trout for dinner.

She picked up the tab. $43. It’s an expensive bistro and we drank quite a bit so I don’t understand why the bill was only $43. Betsy’s a regular and knew the bartender so maybe they left the drinks off the check. The bartender said that Betsy and I are a handsome couple and that we should get married. We laughed and said we agree. All the lust I had for her when we first met has mysteriously evaporated, but I’m still quite fond of her.

We ate at the bar, which I love. It’s more communal. She looked past my shoulder and said, “Oh, here comes my old boyfriend.” I turned around and it was Ricky Jay. He introduced himself and I said, “Yes, I know who you are.” I have a book he wrote called Cards as Weapons that teaches you how to throw cards with knife-like accuracy and velocity. In his stage act, he stands at one end of the stage and flings cards into a watermelon that’s on the other end of the stage. It’s an impressive feat. Afterwards, Betsy told me he has a volatile relationship with his mother. One evening, the police were called because he was throwing cards at her.

Betsy said he’s in town because he’s being profiled in the The New Yorker. I was a bit star struck but managed to sound at least marginally intelligent and not say anything stupid. I didn’t want to embarrass Betsy.

We walked to the Film Forum and saw Visions of Light, a documentary on cinematography. Her pick. Her treat. I learn a lot when I spend time with her. She makes me less drab and doesn’t care that I never went to college. Maybe I SHOULD marry her. I asked if she wanted to come over after the movie but she was tired and got a cab home.

And speaking of ex-dancers…I respect all art forms but I don’t understand modern dance. I saw the Feld Ballet at the Joyce on 8th Avenue with Elvin. They’ve got a lot of nerve calling that stuff ballet. Tutus and dancing on point it ain’t. What we got was droning, minimalist music and twisted, contorted limbs. I fell asleep a couple of times. We both had to stifle laughs. Suppressed laughter is the worst.

Beforehand we ordered the prix fixe at the French bistro next to the Joyce. That’s two French dinners in a row and I’m not crazy about French food. I’d have been okay with a plate of beans and weenies. The waitress was ravishing but I could tell she thought Elvin and I were a couple. His mentioning that we had ballet tickets didn’t help matters. We ran out of time and couldn’t order dessert but they let us come back after the show for it. That was nice.


Daughter at the Guggenheim.

When they’re adults, they’ll either embrace this stuff or never want to walk into an art museum again. For now, I think they’re a bit bored. But if you live this close and don’t expose them, you’re a shitty parent.

82 thoughts on “Did I destroy this work of art?

  1. Expose those lil’ uns! They won’t appreciate it fully until someone else reframes the whole art and cultural production thing for them, regardless (because parents NEVER do cool things), but they will be ahead of the pack…and if they have a transcendent moment it will deepen their conviction in connecting it to these past engagements with you!

    • Hi, brother. Nice to see you. I won’t stop taking them (whether they like it or not) but I wish I could find the words to inspire them. When they look at a piece, I wish I could explain what makes it great. You need someone to point this stuff out to them and that’s not my bailiwick. When I look at something, I’ll either like it or not, but I can’t explain why.

      • meh. I think you’re burdening yourself. For them it should be as for you, ask them what they like about it… ask them why. Tell them what you noticed…see what comes out of that conversation. The art history/context can come when you triple mortgage the house for their Vanderbilt liberal arts degree….

  2. I had a crush on a Betsy. She was pixie-ish, a music student, flute of course. She liked me but couldn’t muster the enthusiasm. I remember a night with her under a sky with a moon and low clouds zipping past like the world had sped up. It’s strange that I remember that night better than times spent with actual girlfriends.
    Re your kid: Let me put it this way. I used to do a lot of music with my family. My dad taught me violin, I took piano and clarinet lessons, and the entire family would enter local music festivals. I don’t play or do much singing any more, but that exposure marked me and filled me with appreciation for not just music but performing. In other words, it’ll stick, in some ways, and a good way.

    • All pixies are, or should be, named Betsy. So appropriate. Okay, that’s a nice memory. Do you want to expand on that over at your joint?

      Thanks for the perspective. I know it’s not the *wrong* thing to do but I don’t want to sour them on it by ramming it down their throats. But, ultimately, what are parents for but to ram boring things down their kid’s throats? It’s that the very essence of the job description?

  3. Laughed out loud, pre-coffee, at that guy throwing cards at his mom. And the two of you accused of being gay at that French restaurant saying you’re going to the ballet, which didn’t help. You ask about my endgame and maybe it’s like yours, it’s right here.

    • Can you imagine if you were arrested, put in jail and was asked by some hulking biker why you were there? What do you say? Throwing playing cards at people? Sir, I was mistaken for gay on more occasions than I care to admit. It’s a shame I was never curious. I could’ve made something of it.

      • Well I get your curiosity; it seems to have a more artful flare to it. Your girls are lucky for that. Your dog likely deadens it.

  4. You rebel. You totally ruined the balance. Sigh..

    Betsy. All your women sound like something out of some artisan French movie.

    So, you didn’t say “Ace” when you met the card thrower, or, “Surely clubs are better” No? Disappointed.

    • I know! How rude am I?! It’s like I don’t have any respect for the artist’s vision. I had to turn it into my own vision. I made it all about me! My wife said that’s what I do better than anyone else.

  5. We took our kids to several museums during their youth, though we have limited offerings in Arizona. Now they’re in their early 20s and art museums remain their favorite. Our daughter treats Phoenix’s almost as a playground. Admittedly, it can be fun.

    • Phoenix isn’t such a hick town. I lived there for a while and had a fine time. There’s a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright stuff out there. The Phoenix Art Museum is a pretty big deal. Good on you for taking your kids. It’s the least we can do.

      • Ah, so you’ve lived here! Most people assume we only have Southwest art.
        We love the Phoenix Art Museum. Did they have the Firefly room when you were here? The last time we visited we came across a couple who were clearly stoned and we wondered how they’d do in the firefly room – total darkness except for a thousand tiny blinking lights. Sadly, we never found out.

  6. You’ve made that rock pile look completely different. I showed the before and after pics to my wife and it took her 5 seconds to see the out of place rock on the lower perimeter.
    I dated a girl in the early eighties who drank Campari & Soda. She would of fit perfect in SoHo. I always struggle to sound marginally intelligent and not stupid when meeting new people.
    Almost always two men going to the ballet together will judged as gay.
    Keep taking your daughters to Museums and Galleries. Nice pic. It is the right thing to do and it will stick with them for the positive. You have been doing a good job.
    See you Friday a.m.

    • Hi, Tom. I made sure to pick the most conspicuous rock on the table. I could’ve moved one off to the side but I wanted to prove a point. I wonder if the artist will notice the next time he visits the gallery. Seems silly but they take that stuff dead serious.

      I can usually talk a pretty good game. I was nervous meeting that guy because I’m such a fan of his work but normally I tend to not sound like an idiot. I think. You can let me know on Friday.

      I’ve been mistaken for gay plenty of times. It never bothered me. It’s not my thing but it’s nothing to be ashamed of, that’s for sure. Kind of flattering in a way.

    • Hey, new guy. Nice to meet you. Thanks for popping over. I like your stuff. It flows and has movement.

      Not many philosophical discussions have been insinuated by one of my idiot posts. I might have to start charging a fee. 😉

  7. You could let your girls read this blog! They’d get “art” with a side of Dad’s seamy Village youth.
    Or not….
    Seriously? They will have a better appreciation in a few years. And if they ever raise kids of their own they’ll be half way to winning that one,too.

    • I don’t want the girls to EVER read this blog. And I SURE don’t want them to read my journals. What a nightmare. What should I DO?!

      They’ll have a better appreciation or bail out. In either case, I feel like I’ve done my job. It’s up to them.

  8. You didn’t destroy it because no one would notice that you’ve changed anything. It’s like atonal music – no one can tell if there are a few wrong notes, whereas everyone knows if you change a note of Beethoven.

    I never realised there were really people called ‘Elvin’! I thought it was a comedy name created for ‘The Cosby Show’. You should have made friends with the waitress – the fact that she thought you were gay would have lowered her guard.

    • Should I have gone for an even more dramatic change? Like, put a half dozen or so in my pockets and walk out of the gallery? Can you imagine if one or two fell out just as I was leaving? I’ll bet that would’ve gotten their attention.

      What about blues/rock singer/guitarist Elvin Bishop? He’s real enough. I’ll be honest with you…Elvin is a made-up name. I don’t use real names. It’s very close to the real thing, though. Betsy is made up, too. Also close to the source.

  9. Kids belong in museums. Museums are for appreciating human accomplishments (or humans showing off how they appreciate nature’s accomplishments.) Of course kids should share in that. My kid let me know around age 10 that he didn’t enjoy the old stuff in museums that I prefer, but he really enjoyed (and still does!) non-representational art, especially modern sculpture. He’s surprisingly discriminating in his tastes. Now I have a new appreciation for a type of art I’d previously ignored.

    That’s how human relationships are supposed to work. We teach our children. We show them our coolest stuff. They listen some, learn some, reject some, then take over the world. I’d prefer that the world be taken over by someone who’s been to museums!

    • Hey, you’re new! Well, dang, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it. Truly.

      At this point, I think they go because they know it pleases me. I don’t know if they’ve actually developed an appreciation for art or not but since they’re too young to drive, they have to go and they’re stuck there. I was never taken to a museum when I was a kid and I found the whole thing very intimidating. At the very least, when they walk into a museum on their own, they’ll have a comfort level I never had. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

      • Thanks for the welcome.

        I still think you sell the exposure short. Because you make these excursions, they get the chance to discover something amazing. It’s up to them to be amazed when the time comes! (Free will and all that.) I’d liken it to that first assigned reading from school that I read and loved. “Gee, it’s a Great Book because it’s great! Who knew?” 🙂

      • Yeah, I assume they’ll have that ah-ha moment sooner or later but if I provide just a bit of encouragement it’ll arrive sooner as opposed to later. Later means there was a lot of wasted time. I was a late bloomer and I’d rather that didn’t happen to them. I’ll do my part but sooner or later it’ll either take root and they’ll carry on or it won’t.

  10. My worst “is he gay?”? experience was when my ex-wife and I were once sitting in a restaurant in DC's Dupont Circle waiting for some friends of ours to arrive for brunch. The waiter came over and brought a mimosa sent to me by a man at another table. I handed it to my wife and had her wave to the guy and blow him a kiss. Everyone laughed, though I'm not sure it necessarily disabused the man from thinking I was gay or not.

    Ultimately I think your daughter will remember the museum visits, and it'll be a part of great memories for her. – Marty

    • Hey, brother I fixed that ital tag for you.

      If being mistaken for gay bothered me I sure as hell wouldn’t have stayed in New York for very long, that’s for sure. It happened a lot but I never cared. You should’ve drank that mimosa, though. Tough to turn down a free cocktail.

      I think you’re right. The art is secondary. When they’re in their 30’s I’m hoping they visit the Guggenheim and Met and MoMA, etc., etc. and it feels like they’re seeing old friends. I hope they remember when we were al together, because that’s not going to be the case forever.

  11. The stones are decaying bricks, yes? Seems appropriate. At least you didn’t do a Chevy Chase and knock the whole thing over. I would have found it very tempting to move one of the pieces, too. The first time that I went to the d’Orsay Museum in Paris I was blown away by the fact that I saw some people touching the paintings – at that time they weren’t protected in any way and the security people were pretty lax. I don’t think it’s the same thing, though. “Brick Bits” and Monet? Nope.

    I think you’re doing the right thing with your kids – spending time with them, doing things together – I think that’s the important part.

    • I don’t think they were all bricks. Are they pumice? Can’t tell. They were smooth and I liked the texture and the color. But how much thought was put into the composition? Or were they just haphazardly stacked into a pyramid? I remember seeing the Rosetta Stone in London and the sides had been all rubbed smooth by visitors. It’s roped off now but some damage was done.

      I’m going to text that last paragraph to my kids. Just so they know .

  12. Have you considered joining the museum’s docent ranks after you retire? You would be perfectly suited for it with your knowledge of art. And you could wear those little gloves they wear and touch more stuff! What would you have said if one of your daughters touched the bricks??

    If that guy can slice watermelons with cards, I wonder if he actually injured his mother… kind of a horrific scene to imagine… good material for a horror movie.

    • That’s very flattering but I don’t think they’d be interested. I know a docent for the San Francisco Museum of Art and believe me, you need a very deep knowledge before you can start representing the museum’s holdings. Sounds like a nice line of work, though. Be sitting at a desk.

      It’s a sliced open watermelon on the opposite end of the stage. He whips the cards and they stick in the meat of the watermelon. I don’t think they could pierce the skin. It’s a great fear, though. I’ve seen him do it live. What a show!

      • Okay. I’ve never been challenged to throw cards at fruit before but there’s a first time for everything. Only on your blog, Mark!

      • There’s that naysayer attitude of yours again… bet they would hire you if you were confident.
        The watermelon is sliced open before he throws the cards at it? What kind of card throwing show is that?! Although paper cuts really do hurt. 🙂

      • What you call a naysayer attitude I consider part of my boyish charm. It got me this far and I’m going to stick with it.

        Why would you think throwing a card into an open watermelon would be easy? Stand several paces away and give it a try.

  13. I don’t know if you knew this, but you just ran nose-first into the Sorites paradox! It’s also called the Paradox of the Heap. It basically points out that since you can’t put a number on how many objects makes a ‘heap’, it is impossible to define heap in any meaningful way. This can be applied to a bunch of other stuff, as I wrote about on my own blog, Paradox T
    Talk. I think it’s funny how you just stumbled upon it!

    • You’re, like, the third or fourth new person here today! What’s going on? Is someone paying all your people to come over? Thanks for the read.

      A paradox, a paradox.
      A most ingenious paradox.

      Sorry. I had to. I couldn’t resist. I wish I would stumble across financial independence as easily as I have this paradox.

  14. First, in my opinion, you didn’t destroy a work of art, since I don’t think that counts as a work of art.
    Second, I don’t think the artist would notice the destruction either.
    Third, I’m pretty sure the gallery has you on their surveillance tapes, so if they ever look, they’ll notice.
    And on a final note about art destruction, have you heard about Charging Bull vs Fearless Girl debacle?

    • If you judge by whether or not a piece has Gallery representation, this is definitely a piece of art. But it’s also subjective. This could easily be just a bunch of stones. Thanks for putting it in my head about the surveillance camera. I never considered that. Now I can never show my face in that gallery again. They’re probably looking for me right now.

      I know all about the girl and bull. It’s an ongoing soap opera here. Now the artist of the bull is upset. He feels the bull has been emasculated by little girl. Oy.

      • I think you’re probably safe – the upside of so many cameras is that no one can possibly watch all the tapes of all the surveillance cameras – only if something happens they can review the relevant parts, but the rest just gets erased.
        By “something happens”, I mean like the artist (by which I mean, a random guy with a gallery representation) notices something terribly wrong with his pile of rocks.
        In the bull vs. girl story, what I find the most ironic is that one of the two sculptures was placed there by the sculptor on their own against the wishes of the Wall Street, and the other was commissioned by a Wall Street company. Guess which one is which.

      • As kono points out below, it was a pretty shitty thing to do to the artist. Not sure what came over me. I don’t feel as bad as I should. What if someone rearranged the words in this post? Same thing.

  15. The rocks are much better now. I saw a classified for a museum security guard at Bowdoin College here and thought, what a boring job! I’d fall asleep. Maybe you should visit and bring a can of spray paint and go to town.

    • Those two rocks wanted to be together. Can’t you tell? Just look at them! That’s why I did it. That’s why I pushed them closer to one another. Rock love.

      God, I couldn’t be a museum guard. I love art but I’d kill myself. Worse than a desk job. And that’s saying something.

  16. Interesting, most people here don’t seem to think you did anything wrong by moving the rock, well here’s the dissenting opinion. It was a dick move, doesn’t matter what you think of the piece or if it’s art (as you stated art is subjective), what matters is you altered what the artist wanted to do and yes i’m sure there was much thought put into the placing of the rocks, it shows a lack of respect for someone’s work or attempt to create regardless of what you or the general public think it’s creative worth or merit might be, take your Springsteen book for instance, you put a lot of work into it, say the printer altered the typeface or removed a picture or whatever because he thought it looked better, or some warehouse grunt at the printer decided take a pen and put a small dot in the middle of page 13 in every book, of course you can say those are permanent alterations and said artist can just move the rock back and that’s true, but in principle it’s the same thing, someone meddling with someone else’s work, would you have moved the rock had the artist been standing there? just something ponder…

    • It *was* kind of a dick move! You’re absolutely right. It’d be no different than if someone hacked into my blog and rearranged the words in my posts and swapped out the photos. Or, as you illustrate, fucked with the Springsteen book. How do you suppose I’d take that news? Clearly, I knew what I was doing was wrong or I wouldn’t have bothered to wait until the gallery reps back was turned. I took leave of my senses but I marvel that I don’t feel worse about what I did. A convenient moral vacuum to prove a point about art.

  17. Many, many years ago, my cousin befriended Ricky Jay…who then lived on her couch for six months or so. Her mother mentioned it to me: ‘He just sits on the sofa and flips cards…all day long! That’s ALL he does…that’s all he ever does!’

    • That’s a FANTASTIC story. To get to the level that guy achieved, you’d have to live and breathe cards. Cards to the exclusion of all else, including people. But what a talent! Have you ever seen him perform? A true master. A wizard.

  18. I don’t think you ruined it. You made it better. That rock (or whatever) was so out of place.
    In all seriousness, the art installation will be moved in the future and it’s unlikely to be put back exactly. At least you didn’t pull a Cecilia Gimenez and destroy Elias Garcia Martinez’s “Ecco Homo”

    • Hi, Randall. Welcome aboard. Thanks for taking the time to read. If you were nearby I’d buy you a tony cocktail.

      You make an excellent point. What are the odds those rocks will be stacked in the exact same manner the next time it’s displayed? It’s almost impossible. Thank you for alleviating my guilt. I remember when that restoration—I mean abomination—was in the news. I laughed very hard for a very long time.

  19. This is my first visit to your blog so I’m not sure if I have a right to voice an opinion but I agree with Kono. I think you did the wrong thing. Whether or not you think this a work of art is beside the point. The artist considered it to be so and so did the gallery curator. The rocks were placed in a particular way that was aesthetically pleasing to the artist. To say that the rocks are randomly placed is to assume that the piece is entirely haphazard. In my experience of working in galleries exhibits like this one generally come with instructions as to where the rocks are to be placed or the artist actually places them. I think you act was disrespectful.

    • Good morning, Suanne. And welcome. Of COURSE you have a right to an opinion. This is a public forum, not a private, invitation-only, site, so feel free. This is, after all, vent central. Anyone who puts him or herself out in the ether better be ready and able to accept dissenting opinions.

      I appreciate your viewpoint. In retrospect, I can see how what I did can be construed as an act of vandalism. No matter how small, I altered the piece. As this has been played out in the comment section, I have come to wonder what the artist would actually think about this. I’ve half a mind to go back to the gallery and find out but that’s a can of worms I’d best stay away from.

      • Yes, don’t go back. That could get very complicated. You probably aren’t the first one to do something like that. Your act did open up a very interesting discussion about art and the artist’s point of view. Thanks for welcoming me to your site even though I disagreed with you.

  20. Aside from the existential guilt-tripping of the dissenting crowd, which I totally understand and in some ways validate, I do have to say that in a maybe-sick way I admire the guts. I’ve always enjoyed more “interactive” exhibits, and have always had a hard time figuring out how to “experience” art if all you can do is look at it like it’s some intangible, distant thing that’s six inches from your nose but forever out of reach.

    • I guess you can qualify it as a small act of vandalism, but vandalism is vandalism! I’m guilty as charged but I don’t feel the need to spend jail time. I love interactive exhibits as well, especially when that’s its intended purpose. I’m pretty sure the artist didn’t want my sticky fingers all over his rocks. And welcome, by the way. Thanks for stopping in.

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