By Will Clattenberg
Wallace had a few artistic ventures going—in her head. First: she wanted to buy or dig around her parents’ junk drawer for one of those Kodak or Fuji self-winding cameras and use it to take pictures of the oversize parking lots of abandoned Big K’s, Basco Bests, I Got it at Gary’s, Superfreshes, Giant Supermarkets and other bankrupt chain retail and grocery stores. She’d hit on the idea while driving past a big chain retail store with a dismantled marquee on which the letters K and S were still visible in pasty yellow and saw a clump of milk thistle growing through the concrete base of an old sodium lamp that had formerly helped guide late-evening shoppers back to the farthest reaches of the parking lot where there wasn’t even a convenient corral for shopping carts. She would take hundreds of photographs from all angles—eroding asphalt, fading parking lines, dismembered shopping carts, moribund vegetation. Her working title: “Reclaimed Parking Lot” had spun around her head for a time but recently she was leaning toward “Obsolescence.” She’d get to it someday. For now, she kept busy sketching on cocktail napkins and placing bets with herself whether her companion at the time would even notice what she was drawing. Although it was laughable if she put it into words, Wallace had a consistent goal for all her blind dates and liaisons and that was that one night she would find herself drinking with a prominent Manhattan art collector or museum curator or better yet a wealthy philanthropist and patron of the arts who just happened to be driving by car through this picturesque stretch of western PA where Wallace had relocated three years ago when she decided to join the hospitality industry. The arts patron would be archangel-like and totally de-sexualized; in her visions, he would arrive fortuitously at Wallace’s usual bar where she would be drinking rum and Cokes with whatever lackluster companion of the night; he would notice Wallace’s casual sketches on bar napkins and would understand that these sketches were not some atypical habit she’d adopted to impress anyone but rather a constant impulse, the impulse of all conditionally artistic minds. Seeing such incipient talent and potential, the arts patron would there and then offer her something to the tune of $24,000 as a loan, mind you, so she could quit working as a hospitality specialist and focus instead on realizing her artistic promise. “Reclaimed Parking Lots” / “Obsolescence” was just the beginning. She had much bigger plans. For example: she was going to make a series of drawings on nude women. The drawings would be panoramas of city life, drawn in fine-tipped black Sharpie (Wallace’s media of choice), with quarter-inch, Keith Haring-inspired human silhouettes performing all life’s daily functions—riding buses and trains, donning hard hats at construction sites, attending alternative schools, unloading patients from ambulances into hospitals, passing through airport security, buffing their nails at beauty salons, scarfing down plates of Pakistani-style samosas from small establishments on Crosby Streets. However, the genius of the project was not even in the drawings—the genius was in the choice each viewer would have to make between staring at the intricate details of Wallace’s drawings or staring inches away at breasts, buttocks and genitalia—the exhibition would create a fundamental crisis between these two desires, these two aesthetics—art or intimate body parts—the title was going to be “Façade”—Wallace couldn’t wait to explain it all. Only after the rich arts patron had joined Wallace for a second or third drink, which would double his appreciation of Wallace’s giftedness, after the night had passed a certain point and there would be “no going back,” no retraction, only then would Wallace show the knockout punch, a piece she knew would earn her worldwide renown: a piece called “The Hive.” What was it? Nothing, except for a human-sized replica of an actual beehive, a skeleton of wooden ribs papered over with Daily News articles slathered in Mod Podge. Wallace got the idea from the famous exhibit, “Flags,” which she had gone to see while living in the hallway of her friend Isabel’s apartment on the Bowery, a time in her life which she nostalgically referred to as “The Purge” for reasons that were not germane to the conversation she would be having with the avuncular, happily married arts patron who would never once stroke Wallace’s hand or attempt to flirt. Her idea would never get old, either. She could do it today or ten years from now and it would achieve the same effect. She was almost happy to wait and keep the idea to herself. She was certainly happy when she pictured the crowds of people waiting to view “The Hive.” The structure would be placed at the edge of the Sheep’s Meadow near the restrooms. Visitors would curlicue around the fence where a single security guard, picking dog shit off the heel of his boots, would be yelling “Only four at a time in ‘The Hive’…Excuse me, wait your turn, bud. Only four at a time in ‘The Hive’… Did you hear what I just said, pal?” everyone jostling for their chance to walk inside and see why they’d stood in line for two hours. After they were inside, still jostling and jostled, now shoulder to shoulder with strangers, in the tight air, reeking with Mod Podge, Wallace bet she could just hear them say: “Well, this is art…isn’t it? Shows what I know.” This project gave her more satisfaction than all the others, and just about made life bearable.
Originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Will Clattenburg attended Yale and Long Island University, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from New Mexico State. His writing has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, Chrysalis, and on Typishly.com. He lives and teaches in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Art by C. O’Connor.