LATEST EPISODE: Pheromones released at a downtown gallery make for an orgy of creative intercourse on a November Sunday afternoon.
In case you were thinking that the life of The Sultanette is all high glam and male attentions put yourself in her stilettos on a bleak and solitary Sunday afternoon in November when the first icy winds signal the end of the City’s world-class autumn weather. Still clinging to that fantasy, I’d foolishly worn only a thin leather jacket to make the subway trek to the Lower East Side.
I’d convinced myself to venture out into this inhospitable grey to hear The Aficionado in conversation with artist David Mann about his show at McKenzie Fine Art, just at the border of China Town and Downtown Chic. Two trains and too many windblown blocks later I reached nirvana – the welcoming warmth of the gallery lined with Mann’s luminous, exploding synapses and a plastic cup filled with vin blanc.
Why had I accepted this mission when my preferred activity would have involved a martini and the Sunday paper? I’d meditated upon the ancient Sultanette axiom carved in perpetuity on the crumbling walls of the seraglio: Getting off in life = getting off your ass. And off I’d gone.
The Aficionado also provided high incentive. I’d followed him for a decade as he curated a rarified salon of classical music featuring gifted musicians, vintage instruments, and all the champaign and cookies you could consume. As thrilling as the live performances were, The Aficionado’s opening aria – an informed tutorial on the historical, personal, and whimsical context of the evening’s program – was worth the price of admission. Over the years, the association had evolved into a friendship and upon the inauguration of The Male Harem he had been immediately inducted.
Eager to hear every word he had to say about Mann’s provocative abstractions, I grabbed a front row seat and killed time reading about the latest art scam to get in the mood – a cache of Renoirs, Picasso’s, Lautrec’s and Chagall’s surreptitiously collected in a home in Munich from art the Nazi’s had declared “degenerate.” Whether they’d been looted or confiscated depended on your aesthetic sensibility but before he disappeared entirely, the collection’s owner had been last seen on a high-speed train between Zurich and Munich. No better foreplay than that.
The rest is best described in heady sketches: The Aficionado opened with who else but Beethoven? In struggling to translate his divine musical images from fingers to paper, he had slashed at the scores-in-progress with such violence the grooves are still visible in the original paper.
Riffing off of that, Mann said that he had once done a series of paintings based solely on Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet. Then fast-forwarded from Ludwig to Love Me Do, to explain how the layering in his images was first inspired by the double-tracking in the first Beatles recordings.
Not that creativity didn’t sometimes require making a mess of things. When asked how he worked his way through artist’s block, Mann replied that when a painting becomes constipated, he’s been known to throw a wash of paint at it to shake things up. Are there enough buckets of paint in the world, The Sultanette wondered, to toss at the images of half-realized dreams?
And so it continued as art imitated life. Mann talking about the significance of errors. (“So much of the experience of my art comes out of the making of mistakes.”) And about knowing when to surrender control of the process. And that a painting is finished when the light finds its way to the surface of the canvas.
With the early sunset, the gallery’s windows had become black reflections as the hour slipped by. On cue, The Aficionado remarked, “There are those moments in life that are so deeply pleasurable they change our perception of the passage of time.” In the intimate silence, he continued, “For me they are music, a delicious meal, standing in front of a work of art, a novel, looking out the window of a train, sex.”
And wasn’t it all sex on this bleak November day turned provocative by ideas charged with artistic passion? There is real sex of course and not to be underrated. But maybe the best sex is a mingling of the two. The Aficionado left us with a quote from a Wallace Stevens poem, “Peter Quince at the Clavier” about the music of desire:
Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the self-same sounds
On my spirit make a music, too.
Music is feeling then, not sound;
And thus it is that what I feel,
Here in this room, desiring you,
Thinking of your blue-shadowed silk,
One of the last to leave, I blew an air kiss to The Aficionado who was perched on the window ledge on his cell phone, the profane having its way again. I zipped up my flimsy jacket and headed back out into the cold. But as I stood shivering on Allen Street waiting for a cab, I wasn’t alone. When the taxi drew up, Johannes, Wallace and Ludwig van, John, Paul, George, and Ringo all piled in with me for the trip home. There was barely room for us all.