Originally Published: April 15, 2002
There is always that moment. Just before a risk. A suspended moment before either crossing a threshold – or tumbling into an abyss. Your feet may find a reassuring continuation of ground under them. Or they may end up pedaling madly in thin air, dragging you into the gaping maw that awaits those brave or witless forays that end in disaster.
Disaster defined here: sudden or painful death, sudden or painful embarrassment, strained or sympathetic politeness directed toward you, or a very sudden, very pregnant silence.
I was not really nervous until shortly before we left for the gallery. I had been too busy to get nervous. The show was gestating benignly, scrawled in the April section of my calendar, which, everyone knows, is years away from March.
First I was too busy working on the pieces themselves, dreaming, forming, stamping, mixing, drying, hemming, hawing, adjusting. Soon I was delightfully swamped by a rotating cast of visitors. I had dutifully hung the show two weeks earlier, and so was free to enjoy Washington DC at the height of cherry blossoming and tourist ooing and ahhing. I even got to feel the wisps of sultry air that sneak into the Mall about this time every year and warm the still frozen concrete facades of the museums. It was an engaging distraction.
But then it was Saturday, April 6, and suddenly it was all about me.
How could it not be, when I was the only name on the walls and floors of the small gallery? My inky little fingerprints were everywhere- the emails, the invitations, the photography, the writing, the arrangement, and the Work.
Jesus. What if people hated the work? Found it trite, dull, oafish, or incompetent?
Wide and bottomless it threatened me - this abyss in the shape of a grin.
We arrived at the gallery a half an hour early. I needed to hang two eleventh hour pieces, and Adolfo had to set up the music. He’d secretly been assembling CDs with music he felt was fitting for the mood of the show. I know his talent in this, and so it was the one area in which I felt relaxed.
The reception was from 4:00 – 7:00 PM. My parents were, by sheer coincidence, in town. If it came to it, they would get to witness me plunging into the chasm. Charming thought, but there is only so much protection a parent can offer from this abyss-riddled world. I’ve learned that sorry truth from my own stint as Mom. Sometimes your children fall and all you can do is watch.
With the twins to arrive later with friends, Sebastian, ten, was content to come with us. Curled up on the groovy back-to-back sectional sofa that faced two walls at once, he was deep into The Fellowship of the Rings, looking up only occasionally to ask if it was time yet to help himself to the chocolate truffles on the lacquered table next to him. It was not. He had to let the guests have first crack at them.
He’d looked at me curiously, finally asking if I was nervous as I paced around the room like a crated dog. When I told him yes, I was a little, he’d asked why. I’d said it was hard and scary to have other people look at your work and pronounce judgement. He’d looked doubtful, shrugged, and had gone back to his book, which offered more and varied excitement.
Then, at exactly 4:00 –
No one would come. I looked at the magnums of wine and the cheese plates and the hopeful looks on my parent’s faces. There was a tray of little sandwiches that I knew would soon wilt under the baleful, unblinking eye of the track lighting. How soon until the mayonnaise becomes poisonous? Was there mayonnaise on them, or just mustard? That looks like roast beef. Wow, Chas the gallery owner has really gone all out. Don’t recognize the wine he’s chosen, but it looks promising. I’ll definitely get me some of that – not yet, however. Later, and just a glass, maybe two. Don’t want to end up sloppy, or worse, flushed, which is always a give-away. Like a huge neon sign.
Should I rotate the far sculpture a little? Is it too weird to see the penis right as you come up the stairs? …
No one would come. But that would be Ok, wouldn’t it? I mean, at least I wouldn’t have to stand there and justify all the pieces I’d done to people I didn’t know, or worse yet to people I did know. Maybe we could go home early, skulk past Chas – he, trying to make me feel better - “Saturday’s are notoriously bad for this sort of thing – I’m sure people just lost the invitation, or couldn’t find parking. This happens sometimes…” And then I could just forget he whole thing and go back to pretending to be… whatever else it is I pretend to be. I did the work, right? Who cares if no one sees it? That’s not the point, is it? In fact, so much the better – a vacuum can be a very powerful statement in art.
And then, by 4:20, the place was filling up. The music was going – I heard Nick Drake, Gillian Welch, Chris Isaak, Laurie Anderson, James, Radiohead, wondering distractedly how Adolfo could have so precisely understood the mood of my show having only seen bits and pieces of it strewn chaotically about our house... Familiar faces were rounding the stairs every few minutes and stepping into the space that held the 3 focal pieces of the show, the Everyday Household Objects for which it was named. I talked with them all, laughed, drank (a little). I watched people looking with interest at my stuff, reading my statement, watched them chatting together, watched them nodding and pointing. Watched some of them writing checks…
And then it was 6:30.
And then it was 7:10.
It was over.
There were red dots on several pieces – six, if I took the time to count. Which I did. We would even go back the following week, and another would be sold.
The abyss wasn’t grinning after all. At least, not grinning with intent to maim and kill. It wasn’t even an abyss, really. Just a beckoning step forward onto firm yet soft earth. Now I can stumble ahead, feeling like someone just gave me a rough but friendly shove between my shoulder blades, and see where I land.