Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A good idea

I know I shouldn’t have looked at the auction online, the auction of my grandmother’s paintings. I knew it would depress me, looking at her life’s work selling for nothing. I mean, it would be okay if people who appreciated it would be going to the auction to get something for cheap, but who goes to an art auction, really? Just rich people, right? Art speculators, probably.

Then I search for other sites about my grandmother, and I find this one that’s someone’s collection of nine paintings, with descriptions of each one, and that’s when I really start crying. Because here’s someone who actually cares about her work, probably knew her at least in some way -- under one painting, there’s an anecdote about how some famous New York art dealer who told her that if she painted 40 more paintings like this one, he would make her famous. And she replied: I have no intention of painting 40 more paintings like this one. That’s the story I’m sure she enjoyed telling.

I don’t know why I care how much people pay for my grandmother’s artwork, except, I guess, because she would care. Or, because, in the commodified world of the art market, it means that the collectors would care too. They would display it, keep it in good condition. One of the first paintings I see in the auction is so elaborate and skillful that it stuns me for a second, to see that it’ll probably sell for a few hundred dollars -- I guess this is what happened when my sister started looking, she was on the phone with me and she said oh, that one’s gorgeous -- maybe I should get that one.

Which is funny, because we did have the option of claiming any of these paintings, theoretically at least. It didn’t seem like there would be anywhere to store them, but now my mother found some place that only charges $40 per month, for the 37 paintings that she and my sister and I are keeping, other than the ones that are in our houses. I only have one painting in my apartment, and another one on the way -- but I have a bunch of framed collages and a paperwork, plus dozens more unframed ones on the way. Crayon drawings, too.

When my sister was looking online, she saw one painting that was from the period I was looking for, it sounded kind of like the one my mother was keeping, and when I couldn’t find any from that period for myself, I was at least grateful that she was putting one in storage. I put aside maybe 15 paintings too, but most of them weren’t the ones I really wanted. I couldn’t find those, so I was choosing others to represent different periods of her work. I told my mother that really there were only two I needed to keep, and one was that one. But then, at the last minute, my mother took out most of the ones she was keeping, and put them up for sale, which makes me sad too because I based what I chose on what she already had, I mean if she had one really good one from a certain period that I was fine with that. It’s not like I’ll be putting these paintings up anywhere, anytime soon, but still I want to know that someone in our family is keeping them. Our family. It’s funny that I look at it that way.

I wanted to talk to the museum, the museum that isn’t quite a museum, where they have several hundred of my grandmother’s works, the permanent collection at the University of Maryland. I wanted to talk to them back when I was on the East Coast, but my mother didn’t want me to. She was nervous about how they were going to respond to her request to donate more of the work. I wanted to talk to them about their plans, their plans for the artwork, but then my mother got all frantic and upset so I said forget it. She brought it up again recently, in the way these things often work with her, now she thought it would be a good idea, a good idea if I still wanted to talk to them. I can’t decide.

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