“Dealer’s Hand”: The.Best.Lead. – EVER...
|F Hadley, 1971|
Paris Street After a Rain
(The Webmaster's title)
Apologies for the awful photograph
Well, okay. Maybe I’m overstating my opinion, but let’s just say that I have stumbled upon one of the best lead-ins I have ever encountered in a magazine article, a form not typically viewed as great literature.
“Dealer’s Hand,” a profile of David Zwirner, a noted gallery owner who caters to the insanely rich and famous – not just mere millionaires – takes the reader into the world of high-end art sales and buying (Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, December 2, 2013).
The first paragraph – hell, the first sentence – sucks in the reader totally and sets the tone for the rest of the profile:
Very important people line up differently from you and me. They don’t want to stand behind anyone else, or to acknowledge wanting something that can’t immediately be had. If there’s a door they’re eager to pass through, and hundreds of equally or even more important people are there, too, they get as close to the door as they can, claim a patch of available space as though it had been reserved for them, and maintain enough distance to pretend that they are not in a line.
Wow! The promise of that lead paragraph does not just offer a glimpse into the rarified world of high-end art, but also a taste of what it might be like to be so insanely wealthy but still having to “line up” (rich-person style) in order to compete for a piece of art valued at seven, eight, and even nine figures. A world where the highest bidder may not always be the winner, but where pedigree may determine who buys what painting or sculpture. Where celebrity gallery owners wield much power in their sphere, to the point that potential wealthy buyers are willing to grovel at their feet – a kind of poetic justice for the 99% who have serious worries and sometimes even life-threatening issues, such as buying food, paying rent, finding a job, and paying off high medical bills, let alone acquiring expensive baubles.
Having come from the Starvin’ Artist tradition, I have filled my walls with paintings acquired from the Goodwill or at local auctions ($5.00 + 75¢ premium for a1971 F. Hadley painting, depicting a wet Parisian street after a rainstorm – a bit of an artistic cliché, but I love it. This Starvin’ Artist knew how to paint wet, rainbowed streets, to the point where one can hear the swishhhhh of cars on the wet street. There is value in that small pleasure).
I can’t imagine standing in line to compete for any painting priced at more than mid-three figures. And I live in a world where the amount of green is more important than someone’s, well, social and/or financial standing.
I do have a few paintings and sculptures by underappreciated Macedonian and Serbian artists acquired during travels overseas for mid-three figures and under – anything higher than that is likely to send my better half running to divorce court.
Some of these talented European artists have broken out – one well into four figures – certainly not to the extent of, say, Jeff Koons and Lucian Freud, but these secondary are no less talented than the well-knowns, and some are more talented.
Artists become famous and expensive for various reasons: a celebrity likes their work, and the artist’s reputation goes viral, and then New York and Paris jumps on the bandwagon, yada, yada.
But I digress. I started out discussing great leads and ended up discussing art, which is sort of related.
Nick Paumgarten’s lead would be meaningless if it didn’t deliver the goods and hold the reader’s attention, but it does, big time; “Dealer’s Hand” is one of the best articles I have read in a long time, and I plan to read it again, this time more in depth – that first reading was more like reading a mystery novel: I wanted to see the “whodunit” nugget. But now I want to re-enter that world and savor an experience that I never will in real life, perhaps with disbelief that the superrich really do have issues of their own, a sort of fear that they and their money could be snubbed by people richer and more powerful than them.
I’m envious of Nick Paumgarten’s writing talent, which may explain why he writes for The New Yorker and I don’t.
And “Dealer’s Hand” is fine literature, a well-written future historical glimpse into early 21st Century art, culture, and excess.