I Love the Smell of White Paint in the Morning: An Actual Front Desk Encounter (Part 2 & End)


Do you recognize this man? Because I sure as hell didn’t.

It’s 8:00, I just finished my busy work day and though even I can hardly believe I made the time to squeeze in not one but TWO blog posts, I have a final note – a fun story this time – on the matter of the front desk. And like the recent Larry Rivers anecdote, this one has never been shared publicly (though I have shared it with friends). So as I wait to be picked up for a weekend out of town, I think I can squeeze this in.

My previous entries today about the front desk prompted an internal trip down the memory vortex.  It also made me think about my own behavior, and how I did or may have come across to the public.  And it made me remember this fun story…

2003.  We had a James Welling exhibition on view, 13 black and white photos from the ‘Los Angeles’ series.  It was mid-week and the weather was bad, so the gallery was pretty much empty.  Our gallery assistant wanted to actually take a lunch break for once, seizing the doldrums by actually getting out to see some art.  So I was left to watch the front desk.  No problem!

From nowhere, a rather tall and husky man bounded in. He briskly viewed the entire show (whilst wearing sunglasses no less), then came up to the front desk.  He read the gallery docs on the counter (bio, press, etc.).  Then he looked up and confidentally said:

“Excuse me. Can you tell me what is good about this art?”

Oh great, I thought to myself.  Another joker who is going to challenge the canon of contemporary art – while I am trying to finish my falafel, no less.  Anyway, I did take it as a personal mission to advocate increased access and transparency in contemporary art (and still do, hence this blog).  So I lifelessly answered: ” James Welling is an important figure in contemporary American photography of the Post War period.  Since the late 1970s, Welling’s work has occupied space in the contemporary discourse by exploring light (as a subject matter and a technique) while remaining interested in Post Modern issues as well as the history of the photograph in America. Etc Etc.”

“No no, you misunderstand me,” the visitor interjected.  “I don’t want you to tell me why other people think this work is good.  I want to know what you think.”

What?  Someone, a stranger, not a client and not my boss, cares what I actually, personally think about art (or anything else for that matter)?  How unique.  Maybe I got this guy all wrong -? Okay, cool, I’ll bite.  Here goes:  “Well, I personally find Welling to be not only a compelling artist – my favorite photo in the show is that one, and here’s why (blah blah)…but also, a treasure in the artistic community for his support of new art and artists, and a pleasure to work with.”

“Really?!  Well that’s great to know and well said.  My name is Francis Coppola, I love Welling’s work and am glad to see it being so well presented.”

Okay what?  Francis Coppola? Like the major American film maker?  Are you sure?  Francis Ford Coppola then took of his sun glasses and said this:

“Oh sure, yeah…I’m a huge fan of contemporary photography.  Is there anything else you would recommend that’s on around here right now?”

“Well yes, there is a Stephen Shore show on at 303 on 22nd Street that you should definitely see if you like photography.”

“Stephen Shore! Yes, I love Stephen Shore.  In fact, I sometimes use contemporary photography in the background of my films.  Did you ever see ‘The Godfather’?  You know that part when [FFC then recreates a scene from the Godfather which had a photo – if I remember correctly, I think an Eggleston – that was totally lost on me because I had actually never seen the film].

Francis Ford Coppola kept talking.  We get rapt in conversation, so he comes and sits down in the chair next to my desk.  For the next 15 minutes or so, Francis Ford Coppola then elaborated on photographers that he liked and how they influenced his films, and some thoughts on the relationship between photography and cinematography.  Amazing.

And then…another visitor came in.  And as I strove (as I said) to create a welcoming environment, the visitor (a local artist, not one I had shown or really knew so well, actually) came in, and waved, called “Hi Sheri” loudly.

I guess he got freaked out, maybe he was afraid he’d get noticed.  In a dash, he jumped up, put his shades back on, and said “Well I’ve gotta run.  Thanks alot. Bye.”

Bye, Francis Ford Coppola.  As for me, I hope I never see Dallas Winston again. If I do I’d… probably fall in love with him.

As for you contemplating the gallery space:  my previous posts addressed/ appealed to the sympathies of the public.  So I guess this one is to the gallery faces that I so respect & appreciate:  your job is onerous in so many ways, but do try to be nice & encouraging of art – if for any other reason (at the very least, though there are better reasons, for sure) that you never know who you are talking to.

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