Reflections on the Distressed Fruit Series, Circa 1952
by Jay Wexler
It's funny, because the Art Forum piece had just come out, I was in Stuttgart at the time, fielding so many interviews I can't really remember all of the many upstarts who came to see me, but there was one that has stuck with me these many years, I think she was a scholar from the countryside, and we were nibbling meat pies on the sidewalk, that much I certainly recall. Many of the comparisons had already been made at that point, to de Kooning and all the rest, but this one redheaded temptress insisted on probing the psychology of the matter and refused to even look at the goddamned paintings, those fruct-o-licious objects that had shaken the art world "like a Polaroid picture," as the kids say these days.
Swing music was blaring from the rooftops, and the papers were all a flurry with the news of the recent senatorial elections back in the States. This wasn't long after the war's end, after all, and yet the woman wouldn't shut up about my upbringing, the long-bared secrets of my early life frolicking with all those cousins on the outskirts of Lyón. She was smoking, I remember it clearly, and not one of those effete cigarettes so in vogue with the international art community at the time, no, no, this was practically a fucking cigar she was puffing on in between bites of mutton pastry and slurps of the local brew.
"Say something beautiful," she ordered me at one point, and I had no idea how to respond. Had I not said all I needed to say in the work itself? Everyone else seemed to think so, at least if you believed those at the editorial desks all over Europe and some of the more cosmopolitan areas of the American Northeast. She asked me if the works were an attempt at recovery. I told her that we are all recovering from something, aren't we, but she wasn't satisfied. When she started raising her voice and slapping her hands together like an apoplectic chimpanzee, I knew for sure that this was not your ordinary interview.
I had wanted to excuse myself and see to some business with the financiers because there were numbers to run and this talk was going nowhere, but before I could call for the bill, a young man who had been sitting to our left studiously poring over what looked like government reports on the escalating situation in Korea unceremoniously poked his bulbous schnozzle in our direction and demanded that my interrogator cease her cross-examination at once. It's been a long time, of course, and I cannot claim to remember everything that transpired in the ensuing minutes, but I can tell you for sure that blows were quite nearly exchanged that afternoon under the broadening shade of the glorious State Opera House.
Unsurprisingly, the dispute centered upon matters of high theory. You will remember, of course, that these were the days when entire volumes of The Annals of British Aesthetics were devoted to disputes over the existence of rainbows and their properties, so it shouldn't shock you to learn that color was also the focus of this particular amateur disagreement. The woman made the quite radical claim, one not generally adhered to by even the leading thinkers of this now entirely discredited school of thought, that colors are nothing, and that therefore she refused to consider the alleged tints of the fruit series as part of her review of the work.
Hogwash as it was, her eloquence and willingness to cite frivolously inapt sources in her defense had the unfortunate effect of driving my poor defender away from the practice of rational discourse and toward those baser instincts so prominently displayed in our contemporary attempts at "cultural production"--the soap operas, reality television, etc., etc. For my part, I was delighting in the scene now that I had drifted to its background; I continued to munch on the wonderfully spiced lamb offerings and even ordered an additional Spaten as the conflict threatened to spiral out of control. Both characters were out of their seats and a flamingo's elbow apart at the most; he was quite a bit shorter than she, and his stunning proboscis was practically buried in her ample bosom. The horn players on the café's rooftop stopped playing. The rising crescendo of the argument had long since eclipsed the Mingus tune they had commenced only moments before.
A fracas would have undoubtedly ensued if it hadn't been for the efforts of the local constable. A wiry man with an exquisite moustache and a linen uniform of periwinkle blue approached the scene with club outstretched, demanding information and an accounting of the circumstances. At once the situation defused. Identification was provided, apologies issued, vows of silence delivered, bribes handed over. The sudden re-emergence of the profane world in all of its flesh and substance, in the guise of this crisply dressed representative of the law, dispersed the ethereal disagreement like a puff of dust in the path of a typhoon.
The participants, humbled by the reprimand, settled their tabs and slinked away. The horns started up again. The café's other patrons returned to their papers, their croissants, their own affairs. I left too, and although I searched diligently over the coming months for the scholar's review, I found no trace of it. I doubt one was even published.
About the author:
Jay Wexler teaches law at Boston University. Forthcoming pieces include stories in Opium.print3 and Monkeybicycle's humor issue, as well as a chapter in Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools, published by Beacon Press. He is still painting. His website is www.jaywex.com.