What does a nine-year-old black girl know about art? Give me a break. Not that I don't love the kid for what she did. I know artists who'd pay a fortune to get my kind of exposure. Actually, they do that. Pay a fortune. What do they get? Bupkes.
Fact: People come to see an exhibit by Garrett White because Garrett White defines art. I told that to Vanity Fair. I told that to Slate. I told that to Terry Gross although you can't see my work on the radio. And The Times still trying to make some kind of point that I was born Gary Weisbrod in Queens? What? Frank Gehry wasn't Frank Goldberg? It's all part of the mystique. Garrett White reinvented himself so he could reinvent art. Michelangelo, Rubens, Degas, Picasso, Henry Moore. That was then. Ditto for Warhol and everyone who followed right up to the millennium and past. Garrett White is now. That's what I told American Art Collector.
As to the girl, if I were writing a screenplay, I couldn't come up with a better story. She and her parents walk into my exhibit, White on White. The father's a doctor like Bill Cosby on the old TV show. The mother teaches Comparative Lit at Columbia. I forget their names. The kid's name I can't remember, either. But that's not the point.
The point is, the story's simple. Like art should be simple. Too many artists make things complicated. Garrett White doesn't do complicated. He does simple. White on White? A room. A cube, actually. Twenty by twenty by twenty. Walls? White. When the entry and exit doors close, you can't see them. Floor? White. Ceiling? White. Very white because it's the light source. It gives each surface the same value of brightness. More or less. Not exactly the same. Garrett White does simple. Making everything exactly the same? That's complicated.
Visitors walk into the room ten at a time. Ten's the max. They get two minutes to take it all in. Then they leave as the next group enters. Before the kid came, some groups had only five or six people. Maybe as few as three. But ten, that is the max. More than ten screws up the experience. The curator's notes say that on a placard outside the entry. It's a quote from me, actually. "More than ten screws up the experience." I don't say why. Why say why? An artist doesn't explain himself. Other people do the explaining. The artist does art.
So The Times reports that someone in a particular group—a full ten by the way—starts talking as soon as she enters the room. It's the girl. They describe a pink blouse, purple jeans and pink sneakers. Her hair's braided with all these beads—pink, yellow, turquoise. A real work of art, The Times says. So anyway, the girl blurts out, "There's nothing in here." Her parents try to shush her. At nine, the kid's a critic? The kid won't pipe down. "There's nothing in here," she says. "Isn't there supposed to be something in here?"
The rest of the group remains silent. These are New Yorkers—or visitors who know the local customs. Their silence cuts deep. What, these people paid a special admission fee to see nothing? They're stupid? These are doctors and lawyers and professors and business people and students and other artists. Or their spouses or partners or friends or whatever. They may not know what they like, but they know art.
That's a joke.
What goes down is no joke. The next Sunday, The Times runs an article in Arts & Leisure. Might they be a little tardy? Hell, yes. Waiting ten days after the opening before reviewing Garrett White? That's like televising the State of the Union Address in February.
The headline reads, "There's nothing in here." This, no question, would lead the reader to believe that White on White has just been chucked down a hole and Garrett White's reputation with it. Which, no offense, would make the reader wrong.
The thing is, the writer is ambivalent. Is White on White great art? Or is Garrett White putting something over on us? She can't say. Am I disappointed? Hell, no. You can't pay for that kind of ink—or digital composition. Now, everyone who gives a shit about art has to see White on White in order to weigh in. White on White is topic one on the East Side, the West Side, in Chelsea, in the Village. The hipsters down on the Lower East Side, they're all over it. Aside: Can you believe my immigrant grandparents once lived there? The same goes in DUMBO, in Williamsburg, out in the Hamptons. If you don't have an opinion on White on White, why did someone invite you to that cocktail party or dinner?
Some people suggest hard feelings toward the kid on my part. No way. I'd take her to the zoo or out for gelato if I liked kids. It's simple. She called it as she saw it. Just like an artist. But what does a nine-year-old know about art? Bupkes.
Here's what she should know when she gets ready to make her way in the world. The media takes a comment and runs with it. Maybe the comment's not positive. Maybe it's negative. Could be what they say is even true. Doesn't matter. It's all about the buzz. Some kid speaks. People start talking. A museum gets into crowd control. Galleries raise their prices on every Garrett White piece they have. Still, they sell out. They call my rep for more. Demand more. We, as they say, take it to the bank.
So what's to know? It's simple. Creating something from nothing—that's art.
Title graphic: "Bright" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2013.