The Awful Truth

You want art? Look through the hole in the token, jiveasses

Published June 24, 1996 8:18AM (EDT)

so my friend C. is visiting from out of town, and naturally if we're human beings we're going to do all kinds of museuming, because this is New York, and if you're not feverishly sucking up all manner of exhibits and events and happenings, you may as well be sitting unbathed on the sidewalk with your hand down the front of your dirty spandex shorts, eating Canned Heat with a broken plastic spoon because you're as worthless as a pungent wino. You have a responsibility to culture in New York, because HERE IT IS, for SHAME if you miss it. If you don't ravenously invade every intellectual extrusion that ever manifested into oil on canvas or steel on wax or flaming bark on tricycles or French unhappiness on film, you don't DESERVE to have a brain or a house or any friends. So C. and I buckled under the profound weight of this pressure and went to the MOMA.

The subway is culture at its finest and most vital. Toothless Puerto Rican women marbleized with varicose veins wearing teenage cotton minidresses, their fingers curling into enamel art-claws, urgently spitting their caliente neighborhood drama into bottles of Snapple. Leering East Africans with shiny watches and unnecessary sunglasses and teeth like mah-jong tiles laughing dirtily in suspiciously feminine slip-on shoes of braided grey leather. Drained white guys in pin-striped suits staring unblinkingly ahead at nothing, numerous vampires having replaced their blood with Micatin and Liquid Paper. A well-groomed dark man in a tweed sportsjacket and turban rocking to and fro, shouting to himself in a clear tenor "Kiss the baby, kiss the baby, kiss the baby, kiss the baby..." choppy and monotonous as a lawnmower for a solid seven minutes with timed breathing, then shifting into an unselfconscious oration to the world at large concerning his prostate. Dangerously compelling 12-year-old girls in inappropriate hooker shoes eating some pink marshmallow animal. Lobsters and clowns. Silhouettes of pregnant black models with spindly limbs and spherical abdomens looking like forgotten arabic numerals. Billowing swarms of enormous, primary-colored sports insignia lumbering by in a fluid ghetto regatta. Wilting Chinese vegetables in a Prada bag. Skis.

So we get to the MOMA and it's "PAY WHAT YOU WILL" night, although they suggest you give them $12.50. "We will give them $2 for the both of us," said C., "I proudly accept their offer. We are, after all, starving artists. It is their duty to educate us."
We're standing in line waiting for the Picasso portrait exhibition. We realize disgustedly that Picasso is the major leading name brand of art, at the moment, as we stand surrounded by gold and blue paraffin women suffering from nautical Hermes scarf damage and soft older men in beige Dockers and Birkenstocks. Air Picasso by Nike. Martha Stewart's Picasso Cheese Ramekins for the Holidays. Picasso Barn. Picasso Hydro-Replens Self-Tanning Mousse. Ice Blue Picasso Super-Dry Clear Gel Roll-On for Her. Creamy Ranch Picasso Tater-Ums. These same people would be standing in the same line to see Jennifer Aniston challenge her pelvis on the new ExcerSpanker by Nordic Track. Most of these people will pay the full $8.50 to see Demi Moore's rubber rack and shorn pudendum next week, and this week they shell out an embarrassed fiver to see Pablo's dribblings on cheapskate night. Same difference.

Everyone is herded like dumb goats into the rooms where the all-important Picasso portraits are kept. Any nine-year-old pseudo-intellectual knows what a Picasso looks like. Big fat goopy lines with a big eye on a foot with bulbous things sticking out; hatchet Bullwinkle origami with the stucco texture of '60s hotel designer landscapes. It immediately brought out the mean child in our hearts. "Bleecch!" screamed C., causing all the art-sniffing she-louts and he-twits to whirl around and stare at her in puckered honky shock. To show my support I stuck my tongue as far out as possible and gag-hacked loudly, luxuriously grinding the snot in my throat like a brillo hairball. C. and I collapsed into tearful hysterics, grabbing each other by the necks and bashing our way into a corner of privacy, where we could tremble with hateful mirth. "Picasso fuckin' BITES!" we shouted with tremendous revelation, feeling like white birds bursting in spiritual liberation from dark holes of heavy tar. Our heads illuminated with glorious, diamond-shattering ignorance. We began palpitating. We seized the divinity of the moment.

We ran through the galleries, past the stiff white partitions and shuffling people, shouting "When are they gonna get some ART in this dump?" We blazed our idiot truth like a yellow silk banner. We regarded the other art patrons as fat naked losers chained together, waddling to the slop trough. We soared through the museum, scorching everything with our mouths, delighted with our destructive power, sparing nothing our wrath save for two childish Dubuffets we felt to be superior to all other art in the building, maybe the world. Then back to the subway!

A stinking tube of sooty tile like a men's room in a coal mine, tributaries of urine and the echoed jangling of a billion urban nerves marinating in unbreathable heat, the slogging over and through one another, elbow in the breast and faces full of armpit BRUT. Some junkie playing Vivaldi on the violin next to an open Charlie's Angels lunchbox. Open-mouthed angel children with dreadlocks and thick velvet eyelids sleeping in the strong pillowy arms of their invincible patchwork mother. I know where to put my two bucks in this city.

By Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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