The Culmination (A Biblical Story)
‘There’s no room, Masiano! No – Room - !’
‘-...in this gallery.’
‘In this gallery.’
‘In this gallery - in any gallery - in the entire fucking world! There is no more room for one more fucking piece of art! It’s done. Everything has been done, and done, and done, and done, and now it’s done. Do–you-get-it?’
Masiano didn’t mind the condescension, but the smile that curled up Schwartz’s reptilian lips reminded him of the comic book villains he used to delight in as a boy, and the momentary thrill unnerved him.
This was silly, but he couldn’t help feeling like the dorky, Dudley –Do-Right, in the first five panels of an old graphic novel. That those characters always came to an unearthly demise at the hands of the psychotic villain de jour, made him a little dizzy all of a sudden.
For the first time since he started his crusade against ‘The Culmination,’ he felt resigned to defeat. He wouldn’t need to be tied to the chopping block by his foe; he would willingly lie down and accept the blade, the vat, the pulveriser, or the train. His spirit had been snuffed; what mattered of the flesh now?
‘The Culmination,’ started as a joint venture between the Getty Foundation, the Uffizi, the Louvre and the Musee Orsay, the Museen der Stadt Recklinghausen, the Musee de Louvain-le-Neuve, the Victoria and Albert, and the Asian Art Museum. A world exhibit of the great works from time immemorial through post, post-modernism to the present day Art-of-the-Now. Meaning to show ‘the culmination’ of human kind’s artistic endeavors, every artist, gallery and museum nominated pieces to be included in the greatest art exhibit in human history.
Once the committee of curators had approved a sufficient number of pieces for every gallery and museum, the ‘culmination’ of the exhibit was certified as complete and no other works could be added.
The intention of the project was to formalize the spectator’s experience. Based on the square footage of the gallery or museum, the curators would decide which eras of artistic expansion were most important, which pieces sufficiently reflected the prominence of each genre, and which museums would get which pieces for permanent display – making sure that no one had too many of the great works. ‘Spreading the wealth’ and ‘leveling the playing field’ became the clichés of the elite theorists, philosophers and historians that supported ‘The Culmination.’
Once The Culmination was complete, so too the need to create new works. The ideology of art, like the ideology of all the great religions of the world, would be complete - like the bible, the Koran and the torah. In fact, art itself would eventually become a static relic to be worshipped rather than a continually evolving expression of human experience.
With the art of the world in stasis, the budgets of museums could be cut significantly while viewership of the works went up. People, who could afford to travel around the world, would be able to view all the great works. The burden of viewing the great masters or the more avant-guard movements or the lesser known genres became that of the individual.
Masiano had been one of the few dissenting voices. He argued that new works were important, necessary, a matter of life and death – but he always sounded too shrill to be taken seriously. What need of new masterpieces? The purview of today’s artists is marketing, cyber art, and to his bewilderment, his beloved comic books and graphic novels. All of the curators told him that art no longer used canvas or marble -it needed pixels not paint brushes or chisels. When he railed against commercial marketing as art, he was told that though all marketing wasn’t art, all art was marketing.
Of course Masiano continued to work and continued to try to get his works shown. He had traveled as far as he could afford and then he stole his way further on trains and borrowed his way hitchhiking. Sometimes he hadn’t eaten for weeks at a time; he hadn’t washed or changed his clothes in months. His body was far too old to endure these afflictions, but even as this pilgrimage became a crusade, his Will strengthened and knew no fatigue.
But then it broke. In the office with Schwartz. It just broke. It was simple. He went from one moment to the next – different. He went beyond the boundaries of his own understanding, beyond the familiar rage, beyond the infinite despair, beyond the hope that someone would hear him.
In the beyond, the air is thin and crisp. His lungs sipped it in, in long, fine draughts. He didn’t want to hear anything, so he kept his mouth shut and turned to leave the office. He felt like something was dawning in his mind, but he didn’t know what. Like a revelation he had known since the beginning of time, but only gave it the chance to surface now. His body let go of all its tension to let the realization rise.
Opening the door, his senses were assaulted with light and sound and joy. The private party was for a Spanish entrepreneur whose favorite painting was hanging in this gallery. The heavenly smell of paella and gazpacho kept his head whirling. To him, it felt as if he floated across the room wafting with the spicy aromas.
Like the wafting of heat and pungency...something drifted through the gallery...something else...
The dizziness in his head slowed spinning and the room took up its slack. He was now firmly on the ground but the room was revving its pace. He had become its linchpin, and he could feel the need to root himself against it. So why did he turn to look?
He asked himself this question after his inevitable glance. And in that moment he understood why the executioner covers the face of the executed.
Rebecca always felt that there must have been something she missed along the way. It wasn’t that she was missing something; it felt more like she skipped something – like a record skipping over a crucial note that throws the whole album out of whack.
She was one of the elite few, young as she was, who had the privilege of money and who had traveled to most of the major museums to see The Culmination fulfilled. Her brother was one of the many curators from the Getty Center who was charged with compiling and cataloguing all of the Italian iconography from the 12th to the 14th centuries. He had invited her to this party because the Spanish entrepreneur owned a rare Raphael she had wanted to see.
Rebecca had a personal quest to see as many pieces in as many different places around the world as she could. She ticked them off in art history books like ticking boxes of an inventory. Like a physicist that seeks every permutation of an equation until finding the formula that works, Rebecca was seeking out every painting she had ever heard of or seen in an art history book to see if she could discover the one she had missed along the way.
She didn’t know that she was looking for a missing piece, she only consciously knew of the quest to see more than others could afford to see. As a doctor, she had enough disposable income to outdo most of her peers in this area. She collected museum and gallery visits like some people collect cars or dolls.
When she stood in front of a piece, she would take stock of the painter, the time period, its perceived significance in the cannon of visual fine art, and she would wait. She didn’t realize she was waiting, it was just a natural moment when the information about the painting would be logged in her mind, and then she would move on to the next piece.
What she didn’t know was that in every single one of those moments, she became a blank canvas. It was the only time she was able to let anything in, but nothing left an impression. She had read about the transformative power of art, she thought about passion, and understood expression, but she had an expectation that she should feel these things-not ponder them. At times she told herself she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but most of the time she felt that she had missed something along the way. The underlying desire of her quest was to find the one piece she had missed.
She had a vague feeling that if she found that one piece, she would be able to experience something profound and everything in her life would shift and have meaning.
She had heard her brother’s stories about the crazed lunatic, Masiano, who was trying to destroy The Culmination, and somehow she knew it was he who walked out of her brother’s office and into the party.
She wasn’t shocked to see him there, and yet somehow upon seeing him, something caught her breath and the martini glass slipped from her hand and splintered into a thousand pieces on the concrete floor.
The sound that made him turn wasn’t the glass breaking. The sound he heard was more like a thousand eagles shrieking. As he turned towards the shriek – the room – rippled. If he knew better, he would have yelled out, but the dawning was still a ways off.
The first convulsion pulled him out of his own shoes.
The pain that gripped him seemed to start at the root of his spine, but he really couldn’t be sure. By the time the impulses from his nerves reached his brain, an eternity of wrenching had engulfed every cell.
The information he was receiving was not coming in proper order. Somehow he knew this. His brain did not make any distinctions. There was searing pain, excruciating sickness, smell, sounds, light. Light. Wait – light. Where? The light came first. What he glimpsed came first. Light. Movement. Behind the painting. Behind the image. Fleeting within the image. A light.
If you were to ask Rebecca, she would tell you that she must have turned because she saw his crisis. She would only remember much later that there was a rustling from within the walls.
The sound Masiano heard was wrath.
‘You found me’
‘I should not have looked. I should not have seen.’
‘No you shouldn’t have, but you did.’
The grip that held him held all of time and space.
‘Now that you have seen?’
The force that slammed him face first to the ground – the impact of a train – knocked the wind out of his lungs. There was a glance.
The room came into shock. There were numerous emergency calls. Mobile phones clicking into action. Voices calling - all calm in their resignation that there was no hope in saving the man – only the understanding that he would need to be scraped off the floor sooner rather than later.
Rebecca rolled him over, opened his shirt, and began administering CPR as she did so many times at the hospital.
‘What do you think?’
The sound thundered so loudly, his head wanted to burst.
‘I don’t know,’ was his only small thought.
‘It is not what you see. It is what I see.’
Someone brought a defibrillator to her, and without realizing, she put the paddles to his chest without using the jelly.
Shock. Revelation. Immediate. Complete.
The smell of burning flesh overwhelmed her. The jolt had rallied him. The scars would be permanent if he survived.
‘It’s what you see.’
The thought carried him completely out of his body. At first just over the head of Rebecca cursing herself for her fuck up, and now administering jelly on the paddles. As he rose, he wondered if he could make her stop from this distance.
He was lost.
He lost the thread,
Then the light.
Immediate the freight train.
He reeled around, and saw it again.
This time he held it, and it did not desert him.
The light behind the image.
Why was he calling it light? It wasn’t light. It was a ripple. A rustling. Not a light. Not in terms of his eyes. In terms of his spirit...
‘It’s what you see,’ he repeated to this rustling.
In an instant, he was on the other side of the gallery, in a place still occupied but unaffected by his medical emergency.
He glimpsed their faces as they looked up at the paintings.
As if he himself were the paint on the canvas and he saw –
He saw them see him, examine him, judge him, dismiss him...until he saw one of them -
A Soul - unlocked.
A Disciple – revealed.
A Spirit - raised.
‘Now you see what I see.’
The shock that brought him back to his body was the most ferocious by far. There were paramedics now, and oxygen tubes in his nose. The sweet smell of enlightenment being anesthetized away.
But it didn’t matter. None of it mattered. Whether a person saw old art or new art, it didn’t matter.
The sorrow that gripped him was limitless. He had fought against the showing of only these pieces all his life, when it turned out that it was more important for people to be seen by the work than for the works to be seen by the people.
The last blow shattered him completely. His heart gave out to it. The pupils of his eyes expanding beyond the limits of his irises.
What had he seen? In her eyes – what had he just seen?
In that moment - ...just before- ... he had seen in Rebecca. She had not seen yet, had not been seen yet.
This time the voice was beside him, in his studio, among all his unseen work.
‘The masterpiece that will let her be seen hasn’t been painted yet. –
And even when it is finished, will she be able to set her eyes upon it?
The artist only creates the work
It is the prophet’s task to see it
.......so what of the work that is never shown?
Like lost children, the seekers will wonder aimlessly in eternity searching for the piece that will unlock them.
It is the artist who damns the seeker by hiding his work –
On his very soul the artist carries the burden of damning those to whom he would not show his creations.
Hiding me from them and them from me.’
August 2, 2008 ©