The Beautiful and the Dead

When my girlfriend Minerva invited me to meet her at Ace Gallery for last Wednesday night’s opening extravaganza, I had little interest in the unveiling of Melanie Pullen’s “High Fashion Crime Scenes” exhibit. But I wanted to see Minerva and was mildly curious about what promised to be a dazzling spectacle of crowd and footwear, so I persuaded my photographer/art-snob friend Floyd to come with me.

Floyd brought along a bad attitude and a preconceived distaste for the exhibit, but he was driving, so who was I to complain?

He sulked as we trekked across Wilshire to the über-gallery.

“Dead girls in high fashion? That’s art? That gets you a show at Ace Gallery these days?”

Inside was a decadent to-do featuring a well-accessorized Who’s Who/“Who the Hell Are You?” of the L.A. Art Scene. The pictures were nice enough — pretty girls playing dress-up and dead at the same time. There were a hundred-plus images to take in, so even the most jaded of cynics was apt to find something palatable.

Still, Floyd wasn’t embracing it.

“I can show you notebooks I kept five years ago that said: ‘Snuff. Fashion.’ It’s completely unoriginal.”

“Well, the hundredth-monkey theory says —”

“Yeah, yeah. Collective unconscious. Rupert Sheldrake. Whatever.”

We circulate, air-kiss, make small talk — all arty and sophisticated-like. I tell three different humans that I’m an L.A. native. They all assume I am from New York.

Floyd, a New Yorker, ponders this.

“Maybe it’s because you wear glasses.”

Something shiny catches one of my four eyes, and I latch on to a plump woman’s neck.

“I love your necklace!” I tell her.

“Is it because I don’t dress like a slut?”

“Maybe.”

Floyd, depressed by the sameness of it all, lapses into a familiar diatribe on the banal dullness of the upper-crust L.A. art scene — the same people, the same outfit, the same conversation. According to Floyd, it’s B+ art being eyed by a B+ crowd in a B+ space in a B+ town.

Minutes later, we’re cornered by a Swiss photographer who always hits on me (but never remembers doing it). He drones on about his Getty grant and his brilliance. I’m daydreaming of crop circles and arsenic-laced berm fillers when he veers off his “I’m so great” soapbox and backslides into a familiar song and dance.

“It’s like a bad W layout,” says the Swiss shutterbug.

Floyd, previously zoning out on passing cleavage, tries to strike up the B+ bandwagon.

“Or a good one,” he says. “But an editorial layout, just the same. Hardly what I would call art.”

“Hardly,” Swiss cheese concurs. “You know, I had this idea myself . . . years ago.”

And so it goes, the same conversation, the same envy, the same sour grapes — only fermented and chilled, poured into stemware and served on a silver platter, but sour and thin-skinned, nonetheless.

“So you both had the idea,” I break in. “I bet 50 people in this room had the idea. But she did it. She did it and she did it big and now she has a show at Ace Gallery. And that’s the difference.”

As Floyd and I escape the growing monstrosity of a crowd and stumble onto the well-manicured streets of Beverly Hills, I pose the following question:

“Which is more disturbing? A bunch of mediocre photographs exhibited at a fancy gallery or a handful of images so amazing and so mind-blowing that in comparison you’re a talentless boob?”

Floyd shudders at the thought. There’s no good answer.


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