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Oct/Nov 1998 Miscellany

A Minimalist Afflatus

Satire by Chuck Nyren


While visiting New York City recently, I decided to take a stroll around the SoHo district and check out the art scene. Cutting-edge culture has always fascinated me. This particular jaunt was quite eye-opening and, in the end, even inspirational.

The first gallery I entered had four colored balls nailed on each wall. That was it. In the next there were twenty-three policeman's uniforms on hangers. Then I walked into a place that was empty save for two televisions. Each television had the name of the artist on the screen. This was the show. In another I found blocks of scrap wood hanging from the ceiling with twine (the artist's preliminary sketches for the sculpture were also available for perusal). And in another the artist had sprinkled various colors of powdered paint on the floor.

I said, "I'll take it." The gallery owner informed me that the artist would come to my house and install the piece, but I said, "No, that's okay. Just sweep it into a shoe box for me."

These exhilarating encounters gave me a wonderful idea for a mystery novel. The story would begin as an avid collector of contemporary art walks into a gallery in SoHo and is totally blown away by the show. The artist has created the ultimate Minimalist/Conceptualist work: Nothing. The gallery is empty.

The collector buys the piece (the whole show) and the next day the artist installs it in the buyer's house (this by clearing out a designated room). The artist also agrees never to replicate said piece (in other words, he may never create 'nothing' again - all future works must be 'something').

A few days later, the collector wakes up, goes down stairs, opens the door to the room where the piece is installed - and is horrified. There is glass on the floor, someone has broken in through the window, furniture has been dragged in and scattered about - and the work is gone.

Immediately he calls the police. It's here we learn that the artist has apparently committed suicide, distraught over the fact that he will never create a more magnificent and important piece of work again - so there's no reason to go on living.

But the detective on the case isn't so sure about the suicide. There seems to be foul play. He thinks whoever committed the crime also had a hand in, or knew about the artist's 'suicide' - for now the value of the piece has increased tenfold due to the artist's death.

The next day the collector gets a call from a disreputable art dealer. The dealer says he has the piece. The collector, the detective, and an art expert go to the dealer's shop. They are let to the basement, the dealer opens a padlocked door - and in the room is nothing.

The collector is delighted and relieved, and agrees to pay the dealer a finder's fee. But the art expert, after examining the piece, declares it a forgery. However, it's such a brilliant forgery - the details so precise - that whoever the counterfeiter was must have had intimate knowledge of the original work...

This is as far as I've gotten. I'd like to have the ending somehow reflect the minimalist/conceptualist theories that have had such a commanding influence on my story.

Perhaps I won't give it an ending.

Or, better still, I won't write the novel at all.

 

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