We’ve had our supper, it’s now nine o’clock, and you’re very nervous inside and you’re throwing up. Very terrible. So finally the time comes. At that point, because I had built up this giant thing about the atomizer in my mind, I was really more interested in what she was going to think of the atomizer, so that I didn’t even think about what I was gonna get. Very strange. So there it was, with its big tag, “TO MOM,” I’d stuck it out in front of the tree.
Finally everybody’s opening their presents and I’m looking. “Hey, ma, don’t you want to open that? I wonder what—hey look, ma!”
She’s playing it pretty cool. “Well, I’m not in any hurry. You just open yours. Look at this, isn’t this wonderful—a donut cutter. Isn’t that wonderful.” She’s looking at her other stuff. “Oh boy, what a wonderful bathrobe.” All the while there’s this thing lying there.
“Hey, ma, ma, there’s one other one there.”
She finally picks it up and says, “Let’s open this one up.” Well, she opens it up. Have you ever seen those really corny takes they do in the class B movies? My mother says, “What! This is beautiful! Where did you get all the money to buy this? It’s fantastic!” She’s really playing it up big. “Look at this!” She holds it up and shows it to my father. She squeezes it Ah-eeeek ah-eeeek!
He says, “What is that?!”
“Look at that,” she says. “Something that I have always wanted. For years, ever since I was a little kid I always wanted a perfume atomizer! I always used to look at perfume atomizers! Look at that! It’s great!”
I’m sitting there, beaming all over the place. My ears are red.
“Isn’t that fantastic! Great!”
My brother’s grinning—he’d held the secret all this time.
So I say, “Hey, ma, go get some perfume. Put it in.”
She says, “Okay, I’ll do that.” She takes her four gallon bottle of “Evening in Paris” perfume she’d received as a gift. She unscrews the top and she takes this giant bottle of “Evening in Paris,” glug, glug, glug, pouring it in there. She tightens it all up. She says, “Now, okay.” It goes ah-eeeek ah-eeeek. Nothing comes out. “No, wait.” She shakes it ding ding ding. Ah-eeeek ah-eeeek. Nothing comes out!
I say, “Here, mom, let me tighten the top!” I tighten the top. Ah-eeeek ah-eeeek.
My old man says, “Here, wait a minute. Here, lemme check it. You didn’t put it in right! For crying out loud! Whatsa matter with you women?” He opens the top and he fools around with it, shakes it, blows it out, puts it back on. He goes ah-eeeek ah-eeeek. Nothing.
My mother says, “That’s alright. It probably needs to get broken in. It’ll probably work better tomorrow afternoon. You know, it’s Christmas and everybody’s excited and nervous. It’ll probably work better tomorrow afternoon.”
I’m sitting there under the tree. “Work better! It won’t work at all! It’s rotten. It’ll never work! It’ll never work!”
She says, “Now wait a minute. Just a minute. Let me hold this thing.” She shakes it Ah-eeeek ah-eeeek.
IS IT FOR REAL?
Is it real or is it a forgery and why does it matter? If one responds to a work of art, why does it matter? I remember being asked by a high school teacher to respond to this question in front of a class. I can’t remember what I said, but I think I can remember the essence of my reply.
I said that, though one might be deceived into thinking that a work of art is by the recognized artist—and that, therefore, why does its authenticity matter—I believe there would be something not-quite-discernable in an authentic artwork that subtlety affects one’s response to a work actually done by the master. Plus, a master artist has created an oeuvre that incorporates some new aspect of our world and his response to it that those who come after to copy it are mere imitators—not creative originators, and that is part of how and why we honor a work actually created by the originator.
(From time to time one encounters a news article in which a painting purportedly by some old master is apparently proven to be fake. I don’t presume to be able to able to distinguish fakes/authentics at this stratospheric level.)
In my examination of email listings of objects for sale on ebay, I can almost always, immediately recognize fakes of some artists. They inevitably exhibit an amateur’s superficial and inaccurate impression of what the faker believes is the style of the original artist. They are bad fakes. I’ve encountered many obvious fakes of Picasso and of John Marin, two of my favorite artists.
One day a few years ago I encountered on ebay a watercolor described as a Marin original. It looked good, but it also looked familiar. It had very strong echoes of one of my favorite Marin etchings, “Brooklyn Bridge From Brooklyn (The Sun)” made in 1915:
Had some forger, roughly copying a reproduction of the original etching, simply done an “original” watercolor based loosely on it? If so, the watercolor would be almost worthless. The seller claimed that his father had had it for decades hanging on his living room wall. That proves nothing. If an original by Marin, it would probably sell in a reputable gallery for over $25,000.
Studying it, I decided that the sketchy marks throughout were what one might describe as “crude,” but that they were, in their form, too well-done in Marin’s style to have been easily faked—they have the look of authentic Marin marks. Also, the distribution of colors was expertly done, exhibiting an artistically knowledgeable result most forgers would not have had the subtlety to fake.
Was it real or was it fake?
Maybe Marin had done the etching first and decided
that he wanted to follow it up
with a watercolor based on the etching.
The opening bid price was only in the mid-hundreds—far too low an opening amount for an authentic, original Marin. If I could win it, I’d keep it on our wall, adoring it for a couple of years, then, in need of the cash, we’d sell it to a gallery for maybe 8 or 10 thousand—if it were found to be, indeed, authentic. Yet, even the low amount in the hundreds was too much for my family to risk in the event that I, in my amateur’s deluded enthusiasm, found that it was fake. As it had received no bids, I offered the seller a couple of hundred, explaining that I questioned its authenticity, but I was turned down. I don’t know if it sold. Maybe I coulda had an original, really important Marin for almost nothing, or maybe Id’a been duped. Looking at my computer screen every day, over the years, I’m reminded of my dilemma.