Sunday, May 06, 2012

My neighborhood

A few days ago we received a glossy postcard announcing an estate sale this weekend in one of those gigantic Potomac mansions on Stapleford Hall Drive. It announced that everything must go and talked about artwork, and seeing that this joint is only about a 90 second drive from my much smaller house, I decided to drop in and see what sort of artwork dwells in one of these gigantic homes.

The place was indeed gargantuan and by the time we got there around 10AM, which is when the sale was scheduled to begin, it was already crawling with dozens of curious potential buyers.

The home, which belongs to a retired NBA basketball star, was palatial indeed - although the "antique reproduction" style of expensive (but still a reproduction) glossy, vulgar furniture was certainly not my style - although (second "although in this sentence) there were some very nice Middle Eastern and Persian rugs all over the mansion.

But I concentrated on the "artwork", and as I had come well prepared to be disappointed, I found exactly what I expected in this multimillion dollar mansion: dreck.

On the walls hung what appeared to be the "Chinese painting villages" made oils on canvas of the usual themes: hyper-realistic fruits bowls brimming with grapes and fruits, wine bottles with cigars by the side, basic palette landscapes, brushy flowers, etc. As expected, they were all framed in what was clearly very expensive mouldings - the three to five thousand dollar range custom framework that these peddlers of visual wall dreck seduce the buyers into acquiring for their wall decor.

"Everything is 50% off the price tags," announced the floor boss of a small army of name-tagged floor assistants. Right off the bat that was a clue about the real reality of "everything must go..." and the inherent sadness of the event.

As I walked around the house, in one large window alcove facing the swimming pool, from far away I saw what looked like a large Tamara de Lempicka hanging on the alcove wall. I held my breath as I approached it, fully expecting to discover some ersatz bad copy job.

And that's exactly what it was: a bad Chinese/Ebay copy of a Lempicka on a $2,000 frame going for a few hundred bucks. Someone had copied de Lempicka's Adam and Eve using a lot of white to stretch out the colors and then signed it with a name close but not exactly the same as the original artist's name.

Back on the main floor, as I walked by, the large oil of shiny grapes and fruits was being examined by a Saturday-morning whiskered man and a woman, and a bored teen. "What do you think?" he asks of her.

The price tag on the Chinese oil was $2,000+, which means that this piece of kitsch wall decor was being given away for around a $1,000 samolians; five gets you ten that the original price from the "gallery" that sold it to the former NBA star was around $5,000.

As with the other crap hanging on the walls, that poor (not in dollars, but in visual arts knowledge) former NBA star had been conned not only into buying mass produced (one at a time) wall decor offered as fine art, but also then some gifted gabber of a salesman had added a $2-$3,000 frame to augment the monstrous act of conning someone into acquiring what they think of as "art" and presenting it as "art" (read elaborate, roccoco, expensive and disturbingly kitschy frame mouldings).

"I like it," says she back to the perspective buyer.

"It would really snap that room for me," he adds, "That's the only thing missing."

"I think I'm going to buy it," he says. She turns to to the 15 year teen.

"What do you think?", she asks of the bored teen.

She shrugs her shoulders, "Itsawright...", she mumbles.

Even in this scenario, I've seen this scene play a thousand times. Even though in their eyes the huge hand-painted riot of fruit oil hanging on a massive frame on the wall seems to be too good of a deal to pass, since it is "art", they are looking for an excuse to walk on.

But that room really needs something to snap it together. "I think I'm going to buy it," says he again, brow furrowed and arms crossed. He turns around, looking to find one of the floor assistants, finds one and beckons her over with one of those forefinger wiggles that cartoon characters use to tell someone to come over.

I walk on by, saddened a little.


Anonymous said...

Years ago I was visiting an old friend in central Florida who worked in a "factory" that produced art such as you describe. It was amazing to seecheap oil paint stenciled or screened on to even cheaper canvas to which the "artist" would add a few dozen strokes and dabs to give it that authentic look. (sigh) I just was totally deflated and sad. I did not know how he could do this and moreover to fifty of the same painting each day. I was embarrased and ashamed for him that a promising art student could spend his life doing this.

Anonymous said...

Was this Stevie Francis' place?

Lenny said...

I don't know... the person in charge said that it was a big name NBA retired star... there were a LOT of basketball trophies and plaques stacked up on the top shelf of a bookcase - tens of dozens of them, but I didn't look for a name... it was a bit sad...