The Art Ho

Stacey Radich was a whore when it came to art, but only art, or at least anyone of quality connected to it. Stacey always had that just-out-of-bed-look, all day every day, and you could often find her with chunks of paint in her hair from when she’d fallen asleep while working. Being a tiny bit superstitious, Stacey would spend exactly thirteen minutes – no more, no less, – transforming herself each night into a vision of beautiful but decadent faux modesty. Her outfits were more about showing off as much of her body as she could but somehow she simultaneously looked to be entirely dressed. Her look made everyone think she’d been sewn into a second skin. But the pièce de résistance was always Stacey’s antique crochet crotch pieces that she’d add on. Any night she wasn’t at home, she would be swanning around the gallery openings, seeming to float through masses of people brushing everyone up with a little much-needed glamour. Best of all, Stacey always managed to get to a bar first and leave with an armful of drinks for herself and anyone fortunate to keep her interest for more than a minute to be offered one from her bulging bag.

Having slept her way through the sessional staff of both sexes at art school, Stacey had early on made the right friends to obtain a year abroad to study her honours year. Deciding to leave immediately, and despite not having presented her final year work for assessment, Stacey packed a small yellow suitcase full of inappropriate summer clothes for a freezing move to the northern climes. Her plan, she said, was to save money by living on coke for a year; she would stay thin, could wear pretty much nothing, and would save a fortune on food. That night she polished off everything she could find in her studio, as there was no point leaving anything, and in a hallucinogenic fugue sketched out her instructions to install her final work. She left them at her supervisor’s office with a note explaining she booked a non-refundable ticket a month too early and simply had to go now.

Despite Stacey’s best efforts to join the mile high club on her flight out, there were no hotties at all in economy and in business class there was only a smattering of powdered oldies. As everyone settled under their blankets for the night, Stacey caught the eye of a stewardess to flirt with in the hope of extra drinks. After the stewardess was called away, Stacey bunkered down with a Jackie Collins novel she found in the seat pocket and pulled out a packet of dons. Suddenly a handsome cache of petite champagne bottles appeared on her table in a little ice bucket. The stewardess’ phone number was sitting propped up on a napkin in the ice and Stacey looked up to wink at her as she wiggled back up the aisle pushing her trolley. The dons kicked in as she started dreaming of having finally joined the club and floating off with her new bride into the clouds outside, but she was soon in a slumber that lasted the entire flight, a tiny Billecart hanging from between her big lips like a dummy.

Meanwhile back home, a few unfortunate undergraduates were chosen to decipher the scrawled installation instructions Stacey left for her final year work. It was a mess of lipstick and ink with a blend of diagrams and a sort of writing sprawled across an entire roll of paper towel, absolutely none if it made sense but it looked amazing. After everyone else had finished installing works and left the gallery, the group made a pact and simply nailed the lot to the wall. They would say that was the work itself, as per the artist’s instructions. It should have caused a problem for the third year supervisor, had he not started drinking before the opening even opened. By the time the gallery filled up, the staff were too relieved, or drunk, to worry much when someone used Stacey’s work to clean up a broken bottle of red wine. Still, it gave her instructional piece even more authenticity, despite ending up a scrunched dirty red ball in the corner. People seemed to like it in any case. The guest judge, having noticed how many people talked about it ­– mostly because Stacey wasn’t there – got on the microphone to award it a prize when news came from the college gallery assistant that the cleaner had mistakenly swept it up with the rubbish. Said cleaner then appeared in front of a silent crowd, red-faced and holding a rather sad, dripping lump, an oversized spit ball that looked like it was bleeding, which he carefully placed onto a nearby stool and murmured some apologies while he shuffled away with his mop. The crowd, desperate for entertainment, thought it was all some kind of performance art piece and began to applaud the befuddled cleaner while the head of department clutched at the mic and scanned his notes for some kind of available spin. In a way, Stacey’s art was a metaphor for her own life; grubby fingers were always all over it.

Stacey had shimmied into Heathrow the first morning the winter snows began. She was wearing a huge pink faux-fur coat over white bikinis, cut off jeans and thongs. Something in the air, perhaps the lack of oxygen, was making her quite giddy and she ended up hugging the customs officer who was about to ask her to remove the half-kilo, silver sterling pound pendant dangling heavily on her breast. Of course, she skipped from the airport with both her pendant still on and a second phone number in her pocket. Stacey had made her way to her cousin’s-boyfriend’s-best friend’s flat in Clapham, but once she’d cleaned up a little, she went out shopping. She withdrew her entire year’s education stipend from the bank and proceeded straight to Bond Street. There was nothing like buying something outrageous from the window of the most expensive shop in town to create a finely false first impression. Within a week she had moved in with her new college art history lecturer in Shoreditch. Stacey felt right at home and set about being known.

About a month later, a near exact version of Stacey’s crocheted crotches appeared in a prominent British fashion designer’s new collection. An infuriated Stacey staged a protest outside the flagship store and with the remains of a vodka bottle set fire to her entire personal wardrobe. Despite her protests that it was all a part of her oeuvre, the scholarship was cancelled shortly after her trial, and the art history professor left her empty yellow suitcase and paintbox outside his front door before going to Algiers on sabbatical.

Turns out, Stacey was telling the truth. After she paid off the fines, she wrangled a show at an exclusive salon where a major collector snapped up her pre-arrest video, Burn Fashion Burn. Stacey had turned up to her opening that night wearing a newly painted and crocheted body stocking – crotchless, no less – and seeing the red spot next to her name was so full of glee she set about charming the buyer into purchasing her next work, sight unseen. He agreed on the proviso that she attend a late night fashion show with him that night, followed by supper at his penthouse. Their affair lasted two weeks, which for him was some commitment, but Stacey was happy for it to end. She’d had enough social page coverage and sales under her belt to start a new work from scratch, besides the only place the buyer was fat was his wallet. Before long she was craving to get some dirt under her fingernails again and she gave up old London town in search of something more dangerous in the old world.

The truth is, Stacey was a couture punk who simply suffered from a short attention span and a healthy obsession with her pussy. In the end, fashion was the best place for her; flippant and extravagant, the catwalk was the true glamour ground for this little white art ho, as her new collections can attest. Last I heard from her, she’d shacked up in Berlin with a separatist feminist economist to work on an un-ready-to-wear show for fashion week, apparently the crotches of every model will glow in the dark.

The Politician

May Belosi was the minister for arts & culture whose office featured a velvety embroidered throne in a room that was constantly being refitted with extravagant and consistently bad taste. She never actually sat in it; the idea of ongoing refits was in fact an ingenious way to employ young emerging designers in government projects by helping to set them up for business, reinvented years ago by a crazy queen who is now working for the French trade division. But what was once done with Aussie aplomb had, by now, decayed into a bizarre parody of ascetic indulgence. An idea from another time and place lost in policy revisions and the blowing wind. The big spend that looks like nothing. Despite this, each quarter one member of staff would be reallocated as part of ongoing efficiency improvement. It was another policy that no one understood and yet everyone signed off on to keep their jobs.

‘Queen B’ was what the staff grittingly called her behind her back, thinking she somehow wouldn’t know. Queen B may well have sat on top but the demands for her time and the constant twittering of staff briefings felt like being a fly caught in large, badly made, and very expensive spider web. Everyone kowtowed of course. A single toe out of place could land you on a community art project in the provincial west. The daily terror that seized the states art bureaucrats was like a knife at their throats, every morning was like an experiment in their open plan battery house of procedure and shifting priorities. Queen B would start the day fighting over budget allocations with the uglier, nastier and clearly more senior ministers before having to sneak in a quick gin or two in the car on the way back to explain to her own ministry how she had lost another million dollars in arts funding.

After she was photographed getting limos to major openings, Queen B promised a crackdown on wasteful spending and was made to bring in ‘independent’ auditors, who strangely always seem to be from the same acronymed multinational. It was then that her department ran within an inch of its life. Queen B shifted the majority of expenditure to be lavished back at the feet of the largest taxpayers, many of whom were also the biggest private patrons and buyers. It was the only way to keep them quiet. It supported their business interests and, usually, gave them a decent return. Combined with annual charity events, it also ensured the fat left would stay well fed from the very same social inequity that they keep banging on about doing without, while the tidier right could have their cultural excesses guilt-free. The rest of the budget was never really hers to spend; it was already signed up into long-term contracts two governments ago.

Poor Queen B’s main lot was to keep her hen house quiet. The crumbs of the taxpayers’ money would be scattered into a strange and dry landscape filled with seeds of projects just waiting for the chance to spring to life. The crumbs were strewn widely enough to avoid any electorate kicking up a stink, while a few areas somehow managed to get a second and third filling as the hand returned to the nest. Like a good roost of chickens, the select few clucked away proudly as they picked at the crumbs. Good chickens, as Queen B would say. Knowing full well the sort of eggs that could be produced on an art drip feed, and despite her best attempts to keep all the players clucking and in the game, May Belosi blew it. If you don’t look after your hens, then who is going to look after your eggs? And now half of them have gone bad.

After years of hostility, Queen B decided to announce her retirement at a ‘community art day’ being hosted by the most exclusive spot in town. The steely irony did not escape one single member of her strung-out staff. While unfinished glasses of French champagne were tossed down the sink at a venue that costs 10k per half day, Queen B spoke with heartfelt yearning for all the little artists down there, and she even managed to effect a little wave of her stubbly gold encrusted finger. Minute canapes and h’ordeurves were busily being rushed from table to table of no-name B-listers who were excitedly rubbing shoulder pads with no-name bureaucrats.

The real trouble all started when a waitress, struggling with the heavy plates made by a designer on a residency in Milan as part of a trade and culture exchange with Italy, began to tetter uneasily past the minister as she was finishing her speech. The plates may as well have been slabs of marble, and when combined with footwear (heels do not maketh the OHS), saw the poor girl flailing through the air as 50 tiny blueberry cheesecakes splattered down over the back on the retiring minister. The last thing anyone remembers from that day was Queen B, still partly covered in cheesecake and extremely inebriated, barely standing on her chair and introducing the special performance arts demonstration for the visiting Chinese trade ministry, who were still sitting exasperated on a corner table. Unfortunately her advisors were busy doing lines in the toilet when Queen B shouted out her final words as minister: “More drinks for everyone! We’ll all need at least another round to get through this shit!” Luckily for the department, no media had been invited, although the cultural exchange deal with China still hasn’t gone through and they aren’t returning calls, strangely enough.

The truth is, May was a bogan in nouveau riche clothing. She never really had any abiding love for the arts, was notorious for stealing ideas and quotes from impoverished artists, and blithely supported an elitist structure that kept the very people she claimed to help out on the bread line. Now with her annual pension in perpetuity, sitting somewhere in the six-figure range, she can do the best thing she ever could do for our culture and leave.

The Curator

Petra Balcombe was desperate to become a curator of contemporary art. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t care much for the how either. Her rationale for doing it seemed to be about social reasons – having something clever to talk about at parties and openings, where she pawed her way into other people’s conversations. Petra would have panic attacks if she had to arrive at an event unarmed and without some particular nugget squeezed from some imported cultural philosophy that she had glanced at through her designer reading frames that everyone knew were just glass.

Petra was the sort of young woman who seemed to have a deep misunderstanding of her place in the world, and this was apparent in the way she dressed – either far above or below her age. When she was 25, she dressed like a 45 year old with a cross cultural identity crisis. Within five years, her personal style has descended to wearing the latest teen fashions, encrusted in horrendously bloated collections of so-called jewellery that gave her the look of someone who had rolled through a flea market while covered in sticky tape.

She also had a distinct lack of ability to think for herself. She was once caught out passing off comments from a well-known international curator as her own original insights, and of course quickly fell from favour, learning the hard way that she would need to actually practice something herself, even if it was just reading a book instead of the review. Attribution may as well have been a distant planet far off at the other end of the solar system and her magpie attempts at gathering knowledge dispensed with any attempt to construct an argument but simply to repeat random bits of theory in a wholesale mind slaughter that left many people so confused as to think she knew what she was talking about. But, sure enough, she was soon professionally pegged down a few notches at a large commercial gallery opening after being overheard by the owner who, in front of his own buyers no less, accused her of being a dilettante of the worst possible kind: one who had the means, and wasted it in front of those that had none.

Following her social fall from grace, Petra enrolled in a masters degree in curating, along with 40 or so other equally unemployable candidates. Within a month, she’d taken to stalking senior students and then moved on to the academic staff in the philosophy department. She would mill about then bail them up outside their offices like a vampire, asking apparently innocent and inane questions. In fact, she was secretly gathering a dossier of current thinking from her colleagues and anyone else who had the misfortune of standing next to her at a gallery opening. Perhaps it was a smart move, for she soon had a little book filled with pearls of theoretical knowledge and speculation but it was all jumbled in together with snide put-downs and witty insults that she’d prized while eavesdropping and somehow found worthy enough of writing down. Any serious writer or curator would use this information as solid research material, a way to inform their own choices and decisions when it came to engaging particular ideas. Not Petra. No, her stalking then moved up a pace and she started to behave like a gossip columnist and developed a clique of pesky little imitators who would gather bits and bobs from around town and loyally report it all back to her, thinking she would somehow elevate them from Nowheresville.

Her other regular routine involved gathering small groups of random remnants from an art opening and proceed to the nearest bar where she would hold court, telling all sorts of gruesome stories about big name artists, who was sleeping with whose husband and other such trivialities, to an enraptured audience of wannabes. These tittle-tattle sessions were scorned by most people, usually because they overheard their own names being talked about, and not kindly either. She could have even passed off this kind of anti-social behaviour as a subversive way of disengaging from her position of inherited privilege in the fine art tradition, or even as a post modern form of progressive anti-establishment critique. But alas, Petra wasn’t that clever, nor that politically motivated, and her fatal error was in rumour-mongering about people who came from both sides of the tracks while framing her tales with an air of condescension that only certain private schools can imbue in such a young person.

In any case, she lumped anyone successful in the same basket and purported that they were all in cahoots with one another, attempting to control the entire cultural industry for themselves. This whole line of thinking was of course another misappropriated idea that she extracted from a group of young political artists, but she hadn’t hung around for the completion of that particular debate, and instead interpreted one opinion as fact for the whole group. Needless to say, she made enemies on both sides of the fence, and soon the divide between the haves and have-nots closed into one of an unusual allegiance as they attempted to come up with ingenious ways to get rid of her. Send her to Adelaide, we might get lucky and she’ll be murdered, said one. No, send her to Canberra where she can die a slow tedious death, said another. And so on the suggestions went, until most people became bored with talking about such a nuisance sort of person and they all simply agreed to ignore her. When this didn’t work, they devised a strategy whereby they would change the conversation to something full of red herrings whenever she would slip through the crowd to overhear some more grime for her nasty little dossier.

The truth is, Petra was an extreme bore; a carbon copied, trust-funded, cultural louse – the type that seem to infest whichever particular art scene is deemed hot for that particular moment. The sad finish to this story is that she was actually sent somewhere: she managed to get a place in the most desirable international curatorial residency using skills that one can only assume involved blackmail. Her final project consisted of a room of broken mirrors.

The Critic

Peter Mutt was one of the top art writers in a viciously ambivalent coterie of self-appointed critics. Fondly known as The Mutt, he was the butt over many a cheap wine at the downtown galleries where the line was always “Well y’know, Mutt sticks!”

Mutt was hardly the best writer, a few analogies from it in fact, for he came not from academia, the arts or even from publishing, but from the commercial printing industry. Having long admired modern art, he decided to pack it all in and retire to become a critic. He told everyone he wasn’t in the printing game anymore, but it was astounding how quickly his name started to appear everywhere in print. It also may have come in very handy when it came to negotiating sideline deals for gallery catalogues. These huge glossies started popping up all over town and they usually featured an essay, written by Mutt, in an offhand style, an oh-i-was-just-passing-and-felt-compelled-to-write-about-this manner that endeared him to the gallerists and fooled the bubbly-quaffing PR Pack into thinking that an expensive catalogue signalled a successful artist.

Smoke and mirrors may look good at first but the legacy can leave a lot to be desired. And desire was something Mutt really got. He was also the best looking amongst his loathing colleagues, which meant that he got the most attractive women and all the best photo opportunities and enjoyed the sort of social standing that allows you to smile knowingly at the camera, even though the other people in the shot are wearing shoes that cost almost as much as your annual salary.

Mutt was, like the best and worst of his kind, a hopeless alcoholic. It’s no accident that he chose to work in the arts when he supposedly gave up the print business to become a struggling writer, for it allowed him to indulge his vice in the company of socially respectable boozers. Despite wearing the hat of the impoverished but brilliant critic, it never really fit him, and even when he was falling around drunk in the gutter, he never quite looked like he was struggling with anything accept the ability to walk straight. After seven years of heavy drinking while working, his liver must have developed some kind of inner lining, or perhaps he had a bypass, because he could suddenly drink all day and night and still be standing when everyone else had long since collapsed. Either way, he developed an incredible tolerance to liquor as well as the ability to speak perfectly soberly while inebriated to someone important whenever needed. Luckily for him, most of the people he did meet needed a drink themselves. Like the time he was swaying against a pole while waiting for a takeaway coffee outside his local café after being out all night on tequila and coke with some of the cast from a touring Italian opera in town. Having spotted his editor and young family nestling into a tiny table while struggling with a massive 4WD style pram, he quickly made up some story about a fabulous artist that he had discovered overnight who worked with crayons left over from kindergartens and then whisked away, blowing flammable kisses to the wife and kids who loved it. This remarkable immunity endeared him to even his enemies, some of whom could tell he was covering up a rather trashy lifestyle and yet admired the panache with which he pulled it off.

What none of them realised was that even in Mutt’s more intoxicated revelries, there was a tiny typewriter in his brain banging everything down on an endless sheet of paper. He would let nothing slip past his eager ear, while his even more eager tongue waggled away in flirtatious banter, gathering tiny insights from his select drinking companions, whose tongues always became looser as the night, or morning, dragged on.

The truth is, Peter Mutt was a scam but rather well natured nonetheless. Sure, he was a drunk, and a flirt, and sometimes a shithouse lay, but he could drink anyone under the table and knew a little bit of choice information about anyone who is anyone, and yet he never did anyone in. Well, that we know of…