15 November 2017
Decades before neighborhoods in New York City were known by acronyms…SoHo, NoHo, Dumbo, Tribeca, Nolita…neighborhoods that were pulled up by their beleaguered bootstraps to gentrified, pricey elegance; and well before ‘trendy’ was the term meant to convey that priciness, I lived in Lincoln Towers…a group of high-rise buildings on the West Side with views of the Hudson and strong afternoon sun. That was years before they were separated from river views and sunsets by a colossal strip of apartment towers and lost a good bit of their bright light and luster.
It was also a time (the 60s) when values (ethics) and values (prices) were about to undergo drastic change. But it was in that bubble, the time before change, thinking that things wouldn’t change all that much, that I made a blunder that still haunts me. It concerned a photograph.
I had been a devotee of photography for a long time, a taker of pictures and workshops, an admirer of great photographers and, at times, a photography teacher. There were galleries and museums that exhibited photographs all over New York. And there was a gallery on the East Side that advertised an exhibit of photos that included my favorite photographer…Andre Kertesz. He was someone whose photographs spoke to me, so, of course, I went to see the exhibit. And no photograph spoke to me more that one that was in the exhibit. What an awed feeling to be that close to a photograph I had seen only in books. My favorite photograph…a picture Kertesz took of Piet Mondrian’s foyer in Paris in 1926…and I could reach out and touch it. I was that close to it.
But more than that…it was for sale. I could buy it…own a picture I have stared at, admiringly, in books for years. What an overwhelming sensation. Was I worthy enough to own this magnificent piece of art or should I be restricted to admire it only in books? Would it become too commonplace, if I saw it every day, hanging on a non-descript plasterboard wall in Lincoln Towers. Shouldn’t it be in the Louvre, so millions could see it? I hemmed and hawed. I wish I had been resolute enough to have said to myself back in the mists of my youth that if I ever saw that photograph for sale, I’d buy it in a New York second. And the price of this print…I’d be too embarrassed to tell you. So now you realize that this episode does not end in ownership.
Fast-forward to this year. I was visiting a friend who is an art dealer/collector and is battle-savvy in the art wars. I told him, with great embarrassment, of not buying the Kertesz. It turns out that he, too, loved that photograph…so much so at almost the same time, decades ago, that he, without the awe of the art and the artist that weighed down on me,..called Kertesz, who lived in New York. And the maestro picked up the phone. I thought there were layers of protocol between artist and fawning public. But he told Kertesz why he called…he loved the photo and wanted to know, if he could buy it. Sure, says Kertesz…what size would you like. You want more than one copy…sure, my printer is coming in next week. And the price…scarcely half what it was in the East Side gallery of my hemming and hawing.
When a door opens, my father-in-law used to say, walk through it. Maybe I should have, but I still have the picture in books.