The prime movers behind the movement to sedate art and place upon its flawless neck a combination radio telemetry collar/real-time pricing index monitor were the art galleries themselves. Imagine the convenience—The wife of an artistically disinclined oil baron enters a chic gallery in New York wishing to purchase a painting. She is greeted at the door by a stylishly appointed sales clerk who prefers the title “gallery representative.”
“Hello, may I help you?”
“Why yes, thank you. I want a painting. Something unobtrusive.”
With no grasp of the underlying mathematical structure of the painting's worth, the shop girl (traveling under the pseudonym Élan) must pose all sorts of meaningless questions to the potential buyer. “What sort of paintings do you like?” or “What room will this being going into?” or “Are you opposed to something abstract?” This is exactly the exchange which takes place at every gallery in the country prior to most purchases. Eventually, Élan and the buyer will agree on a piece which captures the mood of the woman's foyer and does not intrude on the “charming elk-hide umbrella rack my Charles purchased on his most recent contract-signing marathon in Aspen.”1
Beneath the harmless request for a bit of décor is the woman's clear need to impose her will on the other members of her clan (the subset of the moneyed elite known collectively as affluent future ex-wives) and a clear desire to crush her rivals. We may clearly divine these undercurrents if we listen a bit more closely. Let us return to a few moments earlier, and turn our heads so that we might hear.
Hello, may I help you.
(I know that I can help you, for I see in the merlons and crenels of your designer cosmetics the heart of a lioness. Come to me, and allow me to prepare you for battle.)
Why yes, thank you. I want a painting. Something unobtrusive.
(I need a work of art that will assure guests in my home that I have taste. Exquisite taste, due as much to breeding as to present position and temperament. Show me something that will cow my guests without question. I want something daring, in an understated sense. Overwhelming in its subtlety. A tangible reminder that they are on hallowed ground, and that their every step could be into the abyss. It must be large enough to inpire and demoralize, but small enough to fit over the table in my foyer. Show me this piece and I will purchase it. Join me in this holy endeavor. Take my hand, lead me to that charming display case filled with ceramic frogs and I will love you forever. Don't be afraid, salesperson of the eternal mechanism. I intend nothing so pedestrian as that sweaty half-brother of love ,“eros,” but something altogether pure and wholly consuming. A mechanical adoration whose metallic fingers wax cold and unfeeling on the altar of desire. This and more are yours if you will sell me that painting over there. The one with the dogs playing pool. I think that pug is cheating and I love him for it.)