AN ART AUCTION, a fund raising was what it started with. A beginning not so unusual as to be usual. Who could have foreseen it would end in disaster?
To be sold to the highest bidder: a Sigmar Polke drawing, two girls dancing, a page of Rothko’s sketchbook, twelve colour strips that didn’t make it into “Magenta, Black, Green on Orange”, Keith Haring’s magic marker drawing of baby being whacked with a baseball bat, two Leslie Dill poem/paintings, small etching by Remedios Vara, Peter Hugar photo of Susan Sontag and another of Cindy Lubar playing Queen Victoria, Ray Johnson collage of bunnies and bombs, Joseph Cornell box, parrot #5.
The main draw was a newly-discovered portrait of Anton Mesmer, painted in Vienna in 1777. It had a minimum bid of twenty eight million dollars, and if Sumner Redd donated his promised ten million, and all the other art sold well, the goal of adding a wing to the Arts Institute would be met.
The auction Events Planner thought it would be great fun to hire a hypnotist to perform for thirty minutes before the auction started. She told him, “Get them primed to bid on the Eckert, it comes up last.” “Should I hypnotize the audience en masse to bid higher and higher?” he joked. “Stratospheric prices make an auction more newsworthy.”
“Don’t be stupid. Just plant a seed. Mesmer popularized hypnosis in the late 1700s. Eckert created almost-abstract landscapes; the most famous oil was painted almost entirely in different tones of blue. There is an androgynous winged figure falling from what looks like sky into what looks like lake. It caused a sensation. It is lost and it may have been destroyed during Eckert’s time. Portraits were the exception and he only did them as pay-back for a favour. It’s said that Mesmer cured his blind daughter.”
He’d seen an Eckert at the Met Museum, “The Lovers”, a strange pastoral scene with the lovers surrounded by sheep and two boys watching, curious. And yes, it did have some sort of creature falling to earth from the sky, near the moon. But the hypnotist didn’t say anything now. He just wanted to be given a dollar-amount as a fee for his performance and a contract to sign his name, “Blust-O” in old-fashioned flourishing letters, capital “B” and the rest of the small alphabet swirling afterwards like mice, newly-born and straggling.
He knew that Sumner Redd was going to present a ten million dollar check with great ceremony at the end of the auction.
He also knew he was going to leave immediately after his performance as Blust-O, walked into BAR 89, down the block on Mercer – and became Herbert Greenhouse: a man and his other, the half he had recently stopped suppressing. He’d just learned how to alternate between his two modes, selecting the appropriate one…and inhibiting the other and vice versa. It was extraordinary (miraculous even) discovering that he wasn’t separated into two clearly defined entities – masculine and feminine – but fused into one. Each had once been unconscious of the other, the hidden part always exerting a tension, a pulling that he experienced as re-unification. Somewhere around the heart muscle, desire was flexing its own muscle.
In essence, he was Mercurius, the shape-shifter whose every quality existed in potentia. And this filled him with enormous pleasure. To be able to generate energy through the interaction of opposites – the same original elemental creative force that sprang forth from the Totality, in the Beginning.
“… cured Eckert’s blind daughter,” the Events Planner said, and then silence, into which Blust-O entered with, “How did Mesmer do it? Cure the painter’s daughter?”
“He had a system of fluids. It’s all in the auction brochure. Here. Read it.”
When she pointed to a box filled with brochures, Blust-O did nothing. The cure could be true. Or a trick. Maybe it was a miracle. Whatever happened to restore a blind girl’s sight deserved gratefulness. If you appreciated a kindness, the best thing to give in return was what was wanted and needed most. He wondered why Mesmer would want a portrait of himself holding a globe.
“How old was the girl?”
“Twelve.” “What was her name?”
“Anabella. It’s still her name.”
“All right, then. I’ll see you tomorrow night at the Event.”
“Thank you. And be sure to bring your ID card. Security is tight.”