More About Art History, Part Two
Cue music: “Chapel of Love,” by the Dixie Cups. Fade In on a man and woman standing in line at the renowned Las Vegas Marriage License Bureau, chatting with a young couple in front of them dressed like Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. In a series of dissolves, we follow the man and woman changing into wedding attire in a luxurious Wynn Hotel suite, sitting nervously in the back of a stretch limousine that pulls up to Temple Beth Sholom, greeting the Rabbi and Cantor, ending on an intimate, traditional wedding ceremony far unlike what one would expect from a city famous for its Elvis Wedding Drive-Thru. My wife Karen and I, both thirty years free of our respective first marriages, formed an impenetrable bond marked by similar traits and backgrounds; honest, loyal, successful in self-made careers not meant for the faint of heart. Karen started young in the textile industry, built a business from the ground up, slugged her way through a male-dominated work environment, becoming a leading supplier of fabrics to the top fashion designers and clothing manufacturers in Los Angeles. A contemporary in the rough-and-tumble fashion world once described her best, “Karen is an extremely nice person, but back off Jack.” Anathema to any garmento worth his or her salt is a frightening nightmare called “unsold goods,” a recurring source of discomfort for Karen from the moment she saw the racks of non-marketed paintings in my workshop. Pretending to understand my refusal to try to sell anything, Karen chose to honor my wishes, accepting instead the title Home Curator. For five years Karen had sole discretion of what paintings of mine hung on walls of our house, what sculptures went where, and what pieces were relegated to the garage. Then one day after seeing a new series of triptychs I produced with precisely controlled drips of paint, Karen finally put her foot down, “I don’t give a damn what you say. Your artwork is coming out of the closet. I’m putting on a show.”
“Think Stripe.” That was the name of Karen’s first show. While I invited nobody, Karen invited 150 people, 130 of which entered a venue polar opposite of a chic opening in an upscale SoHo gallery. Karen’s art opening was held in my raw workshop in a run-down industrial center in blue-collar Cathedral City, California. Certainly, the sophisticated art crowd in attendance had little experience parking their cars in a dank industrial lot, however, they came, they mingled, they stayed. Karen’s second show, also at my workshop, was equally well attended, however, this time through word-of-mouth, an assembly of local artists and gallery owners dropped by. One gallery owner asked me to be part of an upcoming show at her gallery that would be displaying aviation-themed artwork. Informing her that I had nothing of that genre, the owner of the gallery pointed to my found-object guitars and typewriters and said, “You will,” and I did, creating a fleet of aircraft assembled with parts I salvaged from electric heaters, sprinkler heads, water faucet handles. A very serious art gallery owner perused some of my more whimsical artwork. Watching him, I thought he’d exit the room in disgust. However, the gallery owner surprised me by offering one small wall at his upcoming Modernism Week opening, that grew to two large walls and a three-month stint as Featured Artist. Then came several annual acceptances to the popular Rancho Mirage Artists Studio Tour, as well as the Palm Springs Art Museum Artist Council exhibition in collaboration with the University of California, Riverside. Two of my wall sculptures, “Picasso Dog” and “Calder Cat,” were selected for the exhibition “Animal Magnetism,” curated by Karen and Tony Barone. A piece from a series I created (triptychs combining bright color combinations with song lyrics, aka, Edward Ruscha meets Jerry Lee Lewis) were selected for the Palm Springs Annual Juried Art Show, curated by Dr. Steven Nash, head of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Do I take credit for any of these accomplishments? Not even slightly. If it were up to me, my artwork would still be collecting dust in some dingy storage unit. However, iron-willed Karen Sue Kott, plowed past her stubborn husband, and opened all these doors. Who knows, if young Karen had decided to enter the art world instead of the fashion industry, she might have given the exalted Leo Castelli a run for his money.