BROOKLYN, Jan. 5 - My participation in the latest opening of my and Neil Burke's traveling art exhibition "Human Hair" - at the Cinders Gallery in Williamsburg - began eleven hours early, at 5 AM, with the first of a dozen distressing calls to Federal Express. The day before, a package holding some key drawings had fallen into the gears of the vast Fed Ex machine, and now I had only hours to track it down. Depending on who I spoke with, my artwork was either in Tennessee, Jamaica (Queens), JFK airport, or someplace called "Newark New Hair Say". After a half hour of 106.7, NY's Light FM, a Fed Ex rep came on the line and told me to be patient, wait a few more hours, and keep calling. Patience - my patience - became a running theme of these calls, even as the agents I spoke with grew more and more exasperated. By noon, I had reached a manager in the hub that held my package, and she sounded enraged. "Sir, do you understand that my supervisor will need to empty out the can?" she asked mysteriously. "Do you understand that we have 5,000 packages here? That it is a Saturday and we are short staffed?" As she scolded me, I recognized a note of disorganized panic I've only heard once before, the time I called my local pizza place and found their staff stoned and terrified, and a woman leaned into the phone, whispered we can't deliver your pizza, and hung up.
As a rule of thumb, art shows are generally hung at least one day before opening. When I called Neil after 2PM, he was still mired in lower Manhattan traffic, the show opening less than five hours away. Except for the missing package, all of our art was in Neil's car. A feeling of doom set in. Finally, at a quarter to three, a kindly Fed Ex employee named Richard Prevetti ("like the car") called and said he was holding my package in his hands and that he would be able to drop it off at the gallery on his way home. I googled his last name and found no car matching that make or model, but something in the tone of his voice told me that I could trust him.
I talked with Neil at 3:20 and from the slightly altered reverb on his voice surmised that he was no longer in a slowly moving car but standing in a large room with perilously bare walls. Noelle Burke and John Michaels from Towel were on hand to help speed-hang the show. I spoke with John and told him how disturbed I was at his resemblance to the sexy Asia Argento in 2005's "Land Of The Dead", and then more solemnly apologized for not being there and thus being an asshole. "That seems to be the building consensus," he laughed. At 4:30 Neil called again, said the show was hung and looked snazzy but that Mr. Prevetti had not yet arrived, leaving a large blank spot on the wall. I started to say that he could caption this blank space as an artistic response to my absence, but that seemed like an inappropriate joke, so I let it go.
My absence: it is a depressing fact of life that one will occasionally have a bad autumn, that one will get stiffed by their temp agency and then double-stiffed by the large Santa Monica dot com for which one has done work in the past and, hey, Christmas hits and then suddenly one is left without the funds for a simple plane ticket to New York. As the night progressed, I pictured myself as an invisible eavesdropping ghost, flittering between the walls and the crowd. If my art ever sells for Sotheby's prices, perhaps I shared the airspace with all the invisible time travelers who will be dipping back into my illustrious artistic past for a glimpse of the days when one of my screenprint editions sold for a measly $25.
Sometime not long before the first connoisseurs arrived, Prevetti made good with my package and confirmed to the gallery that I had literally begged for the delivery. Later, when I spoke with John Michaels, a healthy crowd noise surged in the background, and then John abruptly handed the phone to my dad, who confirmed that the show was "awesome" (John later confirmed that dad refused to take any of the credit or blame for my artistic flowering - which seems entirely reasonable - and Neil later confirmed that he'd forgotten to invite NY photographer and his one time next door neighbor Richard Kern, meaning I could forget about that photo of my dad and Kern together). At 9, I spoke on two different phones with Neil and my friend Christina, and when I pressed for juicier details on what I was missing, including fictitious juicy details, Christina told me there was, "a little weeping, and some punching of walls." Neil added that "a beautiful woman wet herself." Neil got off the phone. Christina and I talked some about the old Albany punk scene but then she got cold and needed to go back inside the gallery. "Next time, try to get your ass out here."
Solid advice, only - what next time? The Cinders showing marked the end of the traveling "Human Hair" tour, a nine-month route through small galleries in San Francisco, Berlin, St. Louis, and Richmond, VA. For the first time in the nearly 20 year, occasionally fruitful collaboration between myself and Neil Burke, we have no new joint projects lined up. From here on out we are civilians, at liberty to discuss only sports and beer whenever we speak by phone. Depending on how the rest of this century goes, the shrewd art investors who snapped up some seriously tasty drawings of toilets and ice cream cones at 2008 prices may have just scored some fantastic deals. The rest of us are out of luck.