20 November, 2006

a little jaunt to Notting Hill

Despite the glory of our autumn garden, where bright yellow leaves float past our window and drive the cats crazy ("I can get through this glass, I know I can!"), I am a bit gloomy. Not to say downcast. And it really isn't fair to John.

You see, he kindly took me all the way to Notting Hill today to see a show at a gallery that our friend Vincent had taken him to, when they had lunch at the trendy Ottolenghi last week. John came bursting into my study when he got back from show, saying, "It's all stuff you would have shown at your gallery. Text, parts of books, obsessive and repetitive. You would love it." So this afternoon, to avoid the cleaning lady and stave off the sleepiness that accompanies Mondays, we jumped in Emmy and headed up north, to England & Co., a simple, white cube (sorry, Jay Jopling) of a gallery in Westbourne Grove, sort of the high street of Notting Hill. Of course, ever since the film, the neighborhood has been overrun with an equal number of a) cool people, and b) people looking for cool people. OK, OK, I saw Jodie Kidd in Fresh and Wild. But I wasn't looking for her. Anyway, we opened the enormous glass door of the gallery and went in, and I was taken over by a gradual, invidious sort of ache in the pit of my stomach that, analyzed, turned out to be one part nostalgia, one part envy, and one part shame. How could I not have made my gallery work? I had, if I do say so myself, a great eye, a ready pen, a gregarious sort of willingness to talk to anybody who came in, and a surprisingly good sales patter. What happened? How did my little toddler gallery not make it to its third birthday intact? I'll tell you how. Eight thousand dollars a month in rent.

Still, it didn't seem right. I have been so intent on not thinking about it, plus frankly pretty freakin' busy, that I have not properly put the matter to rest. I loved it. When it was good, it was so good. Like when I sold the Miriam Schapiro painting to Steve Wynn, or the Sarah Webb sculpture to Edward Albee, or the David Henderson and the Scott Reeds, and the Fran Siegel, all in one day to Howard Lutnick. But probably even more emblematic of the gallery and the fun we had were all the sales of Makoto Fujimura paintings to my dear upstairs neighbor Meredith. Every time she had something to celebrate, she bought a painting, but even more important, she told me that the paintings were there to comfort her when her husband died.

There was the fun of getting reviews, and the theft of the Lisa Capone sculpture that Avery and I tracked down and sent the police to get back for us! And all the openings. Michael Myers managed to bring the entire cast of "The Sopranos" to his! And it was always such fun to open the door in the mornings and walk in and feel that it was all MINE. My project, my business, the place in the neighborhood where everybody came to exchange gossip, worry that the war in Iraq would start, commiserate on playdates gone wrong, walk around the show and say what was the favorite piece, look up and wonder if the person who just walked in was the reviewer for the Times, or Art in America. And all the lunches out with Milt Esterow, the head of Art in America, where he virtually patted me on the head and said, "Don't let the bullies get you down." And the fun of having my assistant physically sit me down, answer the phone and deal with all the visitors, for that one hour a month when I simply had to produce 500 words of wisdom to describe the upcoming show. And Erin, my partner in crime, rubbing her hands together when a particularly hot sale went through, saying, "We're cooking with gas!" And Avery and her little friends climbing the ladder to sit in the little carpeted attic on top of the bathroom. "Is that a proper ceiling, or could they come tumbling down into the sink?" someone asked once, and we never really knew the answer.

And the disasters! The $125,000 painting that arrived from the artist's studio covered in toxic black mold: with the potential buyer arriving in three days to see it. Best of all was the people: all the brilliant artists, the happy buyers, the acerbic reviewers, the wanna-be artists (one of whom, never to be forgotten, who painted with a mixture of her own breast milk and human ashes), and the art-school electricians, installers, painters, carpenters and assistants who came and went, telling their stories, doing their jobs, and drifting out again, to turn up at an opening, or on a Saturday afternoon with their babies and dogs, to chat and show off where they had worked.

Ah, well, the fact remains that I was a truly challenged business owner. I hated dealing with the insurance, the phone, the landlord, the utilities, the leak, the mold, the broken front-door key. And one cannot run a successful business in New York City with one's head stuck in one's PhD. John and I often think that if he had quit his job then, like he has done now, we could have run the business together.

What? Didn't I tell you? Yes, John has quit his job. I know, I know, that's why we moved, for The Job. Except that what was dangled out in front of him, a really wonderful promotion, was given to The Other Guy. So while all the powers-that-be at Reuters scrambled to offer John this other job, or that other job, at the end of the day he felt it was the right time to quit. Everyone at school pickup keeps asking with either anxiety, disbelief, or patent envy, "Are you slaving away to find something else? Something else will present itself..." and the answer is always, "No, not really." He is what he terms a Serial Quitter, since he left Merrill Lynch and stayed home for a long time when Avery was two, and then again before he went to Reuters he stayed home for nine months. He likes it! And thankfully he can do it. So I suddenly have not only company at home, but someone who actually LIKES getting up at 7 in the morning (or has already been up for an hour and a half), someone who empties the dishwasher, makes beds, rewires lamps and carries heavy groceries. Of course the flipside of all this glory, bless his heart, is that I also have someone who listens in on my phone conversations and reminds me when the milk is going to go off. Well, every silver lining.

Seriously, though, we're having a great time. I have been instructed not to worry about anything, and just to enjoy having him around since it won't last forever. Already headhunters are calling. One day, just to rattle my cage, he said, "How do you feel about Dayton?" I retorted that unless it was a little-known but very convenient suburb of London, I wasn't buying.

Anyway, Notting Hill is adorable. I can see why movies are set there and all the A-list celebrities live there. Of course I can also see why property values are so astronomical. I wouldn't be able to shop at Fresh and Wild for very long. And the show at England & Co. really was exactly my cup of tea. It's called "Literary Constructs" and features a number of English artists, prominent among them Chris Kenny, who takes snippets of "found" text and reconstructs stories out of them, pinning them to a piece of paper so the shadows form as much of the piece as the text itself. Simply gorgeous. One of the best pieces was all phrases to do with food, and I would have bought it instantly, but it was sold already, darn. Phrases like "an insufficient quantity of cod" and "chocolately essence of childhood," or something like that, stood out. Witty and clever, but also visually very spare and austere. Loved it. I had a nice talk with the owner, Jane England, about my experiences, the cutthroat New York art world, the pressures of running a gallery. She summed up her job in one phrase: "It's relentless." How well I remember it.

Fresh and Wild was offering samples of fresh guacamole, which inspired me to come home and try to make it myself. You know me: if it's edible and contains an avocado, I will eat it. It turned out really well.


1 large, perfectly ripe Hass avocado
3 tbsps sour cream
juice of 1 lime
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
3 tbsps finely chopped red onion
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and either eat it right away, or cover it with clingfilm that touches the surface, so it does not brown. With this I had some slightly stale ciabatta from yesterday, a little pile of red pepper bites, and another little pile of halved baby tomatoes. A bite of each, all at the same time, was heaven. I think next time I would mix the peppers in, but keep the tomatoes separate since I didn't want tomato juice in the guacamole. I wonder how it would be with chickpeas added? Perhaps it's best not to cross the great guacamole-hummous divide. Let them stand on their individual merits.

Avery's come home with a certificate proclaiming that she had won the Gold Level of the Primary Mathematics Challenge. Now, you'd think she'd be excited, even proud. But no. Saturday morning my phone rings and it's Grace's mother Janine. "Congratulations to your little girl, Kristen. Well done on the maths challenge, Gold Level indeed!" "Uh, what do you mean?" "Well, it's in the Friday newsletter!" Which Avery did not even show me. Queried on this point, she heaved a sort of pre-adolescent sigh and said, "It's not real gold. It's just cardboard." Oh dear, the need for bling starts young.

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