I recently acquired, through means both delicious and forbidden under Geneva convention letter, several pieces of anti-fauvist sculpture from Carten’s, an art and antiquities treasure house in St. Vincent, Tx. Each of the works interested me separately, and would fetch a comfortable sum if presented for individual sale in the freelance auction circuit. I find myself unable to separate them, however, as I have discovered they are part of a larger collection. Funded by an eccentric collector/architect of Uncertain European Descent, Wilhelm Arden Knokker (pronounced k-nocker), the pieces were originally considered a "collection because of their collective theme --objects unified by measures of relative lethality."
An entire Aesthetic movement erupted from the study of this collection. Called “The School” by its founder, Samuel Trace, this scene/movement/armed anti-artistic resistance held one precept above all others: Any artistic object may be judged by a single criterion-- If I struck a grown man on the head with this piece, would it kill him? As with any notion of artistic measure, this question contains a series of subtextual inquiries. The School believed that if one answered this web of internal, tacit, prenatal, and hypnogogic under-questions, the artistic merit of the piece was completely discerned.
Opponents of the school, who often did not even know of their opposition since, by definition ‘any not for us are agin us,’ required of their art simpler pleasures and clearer answers. Upon viewing a painting, the day to day man on the street will ask, in tones both common and unpretentious, “Does this painting accurately depict a shirtless Greek gentleman teaching pre-calculus algebra to a classroom in which every desk is filled by attentive, heavily mascaraed pleasure droids eager to interrupt the lecture with the trapdoor clacking of their cryosteel French tips and the cicadic hum of the cold fusive power-plants sleeping fitfully in their synthetic bowels?” Yes or No?
It’s a simple question, and it leads logically to other inquiries. The instructor looks perfectly content without his shirt. Did he forget it on the steps of his expansive manor house or on the banks of some indeterminate rivulet? Why was he in such a hurry to leave such an estate, or such an indeterminate rivulet? Had the fumes from the remodeling become too much for him? Yesses and Nos. In the face of such a hypothetical piece, viewer response scholars will question the evocative aspects of the teacher’s physique and the relative heights, weights, and the intuitive links which may or may not exist between the viewer, instructor, and students. Has he removed his shirt as a reward for perfect attendance? Would such a thing be considered dirty pool in the theoretical educational system implied by the assembling of these automatons in the form of a class? Yea or Nay. Hit me.
The School considered these analyses laughable. It was, to them, inconceivable that aesthetic worth should be determined by the artist’s intent, the reaction of the viewer or even the quality of the materials. Only one question was necessary to the so-called Tracies: If I struck a grown man on the head with this piece, would it kill him?
Sadly, I am unable to determine the worth of the pieces I just bought by simply looking at them. How large a man did they mean? What sort of blow? I mean, a peanut glazed with ram’s blood and titled “Proteinous Isaac” could kill just about anyone if fired from a rifle. There were too many factors for me to consider alone, so I sought the help of a professional.
Marcelle Nerien worked for a reputable auction house in Manhattan. I met her during a trip to Paris, where I watched her stalk and eventually kill a Citroen Luxury Sedan with such power and grace that the assault stands in my memory as "the most beautiful and terrible experience of my early twenties." She built a reputation in New Orleans as a gallery director, but now commanded a crack team of art inspectors working to identify and recover pieces stolen during various Nazi occupations. Ostensibly, the team’s goal was to return the items to their rightful owners, formerly wealthy Jewish families living in the united states and abroad, but enough of the pieces were found to belong to defunct lines and indeterminate surnames now living in Paraguay that supplemental income from illicit sales was available to anyone on her team who cared for that sort of exchange.
Her first appraisal was a highly publicized identification of a series of ceramic figurines—12 jolly fellows (ostensibly Hummel) performing the Stations of the Cross. Closer inspection revealed two important facts. First, the figures were not valuable individually, despite the fact that they also showed the 12 progressive stages of MultiPox, a medieval bacterial/viral combo disease that proved so virulent that it was unable to survive when exposed to itself. Second, the figures were infinitely less important than the box in which they had been packed. Inside each of the six surrounding panels was a plate of the Salvador Dali Sextych “Portraits of Cervantes’ Quixote.” The catalan polymath, Dali', had formed a cube of brass plates about a case of gunpowder and shrapnel (consisting of crushed rhino horn, ink, bread, and cuneiform tablets). After detonating the device from a safe distance (he was in Paris at the time, unaware of his own project. The device was activated by a mercury tilt-trigger designed to respond to Dali’s eventual loss of interest in the piece.) the tattered remains of the cube’s faces became the portraits of La Mancha’s favorite demiknight.
The 12 aching gentlemen were useful, however, in tracking the course of the six plates out of Europe and into the U.S. The bronze-plated bin had been smuggled out of France by an SS officer in 1938 posing as a baker specializing in novelty breads. He was able to pass through customs by declaring his newest creation, “A Rye Loaf in the shape of a brass plate sextych depicting various scenes from the Quixote.” [Further research by my friend and her staff has since linked this uberbakker to a number of stolen pieces:
73 Incendio Room|
74 Segnatura Room
75 Eliodoro Room
76 Hall of Constantine
77 Loggia of Raphael
78 Room of the Chiaroscuri
79 Chapel of Nicholas V
80 Chapel of Urban VIII