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TRAVEL PORTRAIT 57: January 8, 2017

Out of the Wilderness [part one | two | three | four | five | six | seven | eight] [listen]

FICTION

They met at a gallery reception for the opening of a group show. The theme was straightforward: Young Artist-Curators with Potential. He, Brian, gave his business card to him, Frank, who did not reciprocate the introduction similarly because his attitude would not permit him to have such a "corporate" mindset.

"I am not a card carrier," Frank exclaimed mildly through his clenched teeth. The seething glare by his almond-shaped eyes bore a wide hole in Brian's hazel irises.

"Oh, for shame," Brian retorted uncharacteristically.

Somehow this emboldened naivete exhibited by Frank intrigued Brian, who would usually have double-nodded to the gallerist that there was a reject in the room. Brian, a seasoned independent curator, lent his expertise to the show. Even though he was certain of the artist-curators whom he helped get placed in the gallery, he most enjoyed prospecting for new talent: fresh blood. Brian's forte was deciphering the depth of the nascent artist/would-be curator. He could distinguish the purposeful drive: that of a confident upstart or that of a pompous meanderer. This skill was intrinsic. This skill made his career, made Brian a mover and shaker.

"So, how did you hear about this event," inquired Brian.  Realizing this person was not from the city, he wondered who was Frank's acquaintance.

"Well--I visit New York once a month for a day or two, usually weekends. When I get to Manhattan, I usually visit a few galleries. Each gallery I visit, I make sure to add my email and mailing address to the guest book."

"You come to Manhattan for the galleries? Do you by art?"

Embarrassed, Frank turned his head to the right, and huffed. "I come to the city primarily to buy books."

"Are you a buyer for a bookstore in particular?"

"No. I come to the city to purchase books to read."

"Books! You come to the city to buy books, not art!?" Brian was fascinated. "What kind of books?"

"Art theory and criticism. Stuff like that," said Frank, raising his right eyebrow, slant-tilting his head to emphasize his anti-bullying stance.

Brian gave an initial extenuated nod, followed by several smaller (aftershock) bobs. "Hmm. Are you working on a specific topic?"

"Subtextual comprehension."

"Oh, subtextual comprehension! Where do you find books on that subject?! Online, I would think."

"You could," said Frank carefully, "and I have found books online, as a result of ambient search. However, I have yet..., there's nothing like, nothing beats the hushed milieu of browsing in a massive new and used bookstore: a wilderness of shelves. The smell is earthen." He sighed amorously. Looking off to the distance, Frank continued. "Reading the spines, guessing which book to take off the shelf, skimming the table of contents, randomly opening to a page to see if the book grabs you. Plus, given the esoteric subject matter, holding the only copy in the store--and the book could be yours for a modest amount. Finding several of these types of books within a single visit--come on!"

Frank turned to look at Brian squarely in his face. "There is nothing like coming out the stacks after the hunt with your quarry, and the person behind the cash register gives you 'the nod' before bagging each text, the exchange of smiles as the proof of purchase is handed over--the approval upon receipt."

"Yes," said Brian through his left hand fingers, which slowly rubbed his quivering upper lip. He realized that the person standing before him was an opportunity: a resource to develop and turn into capital. "So, um, what's your background--oh, huh. What I mean is, your educational background?"

Frank made a mental note of Brian's hesitance. "Well," he paused to exhale from his flaring nostrils. "I've had somewhat of a diverse education, you might say. Quite honestly, I don't know why this stuff (subtextual comprehension) interests me. But hey, you know what you don't know; and if you know what you don't know, pretty soon you'll know even more, you know? Or something like that."

This statement befuddled Brian who extended his right arm bent at the elbow. With his forearm parallel to the floor, he motioned circularly with his right hand, prompting Frank to continue.

"My education has led me to the Visual Arts--the affect/effect, the osmotic gut reaction, the wont to elaborate, to describe the cause, the reasons why a painting sparked an emotion or emotions and/or a series of cascading ideas. Why did the viewer value the work of art?" He paused for a second. "I'm not talking about shock value, however."

"Right." Brian's eyes began to glaze over with glee. As a result, he did not press Frank concerning his academic credentials. Instead, Brian wondered how he might surreptitiously be able to get Frank to consult on some of his upcoming projects.

"You say you come to town for a couple of days. When you do so, where do you stay?"

"If I stay overnight--I found a hostel in SoHo I like," Frank replied cautiously.

"Look," concluded Brian. "You have my card. Call me the next time you plan on coming to town. Perhaps, hopefully our schedules will mesh. If so, I could put you up for the night. I have a spacious rent-controlled apartment mid-town. And we could talk some more about your work in relation to my curatorship. We could talk shop; we could brainstorm."

Frank looked quizzically at Brian who was on the verge of babbling.

Apologetically, Brian continued red-faced. "Sorry, I'm being a bit presumptuous. There are other people here that I must see. Stay though. Take notes of the artworks on display. Study them, then get back to me with your feedback. Let's find out how good your memory is, okay?"

"O-kay," grumbled Frank.

"Do get back to me. Oh, and keep reading!"

Brian leaned in to look at Frank most directly to impress upon him his fierce gentlemanliness. "You have a lot to learn. I can teach you."

Masking his intentions, Brian leaned back and shook Frank's hand palm-up, gripping tightly as his hand twisted vertically.

Before walking away, Brian asked, "Hey Frank, do you paint or curate? Look, never mind; doesn't matter. You can tell me later." He thought him to be intelligent, but gullible, maybe even seducible.

Frank watched Brian weave his way through the gallery until he saw him welcome an elderly couple, a well-dressed man and a glittery-dressed woman, husband and wife. The husband greeted Brian with a double-hander; the wife pecked his cheek while patting him lightly in the center of his back.

Frank located a glass of red wine at the makeshift bar. He lingered over the first sip and mulled over the first painting of the group show. He chuckled to himself. Swishing unnoticeably the wine in his mouth, he thought, "Perhaps I did find a mentor."

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