PRINT January 1987


Rex, on a roll, brushes with Cupid.

SINCE THE TIME OF his creative paralysis and his vision of a world without art, Rex had made much happen. He had painted relentlessly, and this had further steeled him to work without feeling a need to please the nosy self-appointed ghosts of art history. Rex no longer compared himself to others, no longer begrudged those who seemed to paint and live in ease. Once he had ceased to measure himself against the world, his art gave a kick and cantered off on its own.

And in the commonplace way that extraordinary events in life happen, one day Mario Marcus, building inspector, while on a tour examining foundation pillars in Brownsville’s subbasements, saw a painting by Rex in the storeroom of Rex’s building superintendent, Rico Radziwell, and fell in love. Marcus lived for paintings. And since painters made them, he lived for painters. In fact, some lived off him, as Marcus devoted all his spare time to promoting and selling their work from his Chinatown apartment. In a world where feelings count, where the perception of an artist yet without aura is formed more by feelings than by agreement, Marcus had his eccentric, not insignificant place. He was a marginal but still alluring factor in the minds of many critics, gallery owners, and artists both obscure and successful. How and where Marcus found often those he exhibited made their way eventually beyond the confines of his apartment and landed on the big tracks where he couldn’t afford the price of admission. When Marcus fell in love, Marcus exhibited. And so Rex got his first show.

The currents of feeling about Rex’s show slowly rose from generators not always aware of or in contact with each other. This is the electricity sparked only by collective imagination. No strategy can buy it. Rex’s show sold out the seventh hour of its second week. By the end of the next week he had been nibbled at by three galleries, not all in the East Village. And the following week, the last of his show, certain reviews positioned the artist for a running at a later meet; some of the more extravagant placed bets, and suddenly Rex was no longer an unknown nag cavorting in a marsh but a player on a clean stretch. For all the enticements Rex only snuggled closer to Mario.

A woman with Etruscan eyes and a voice like dry leaves sliding against themselves on a grating came by the last afternoon of the show while Rex and Mario were having a celebratory glass of muscatel. The minute Rex heard the soft rasp of her voice as she greeted Mario with the intimacy of an old friend, his heart was mad to rush toward her. In the exhilaration and fear of this desire Rex felt he had to prolong the suspension between his past and his future, and he fled before the inevitable introduction to the ravishing Etruscan.

When Rex returned from the Chinese movie where he had hid himself, Mario gave him the news that the woman, a famous artist, had spoken encouragingly about the paintings and had invited Mario and Rex to come by her studio.

Frederic Tuten is a writer of fiction. He is a professor and the director of the graduate program in English and creative writing at the City College of New York. This serial appears regularly in Artforum.