Essays

The Time Edward Albee Almost Bought My Painting

As a clichéd Gen X art student, I was too arrogant for my own good.

The author when he was an art student, with the painting in the story at top right (photo courtesy the author)

According to the New York Times, Edward Albee’s estate is planning to sell the playwright’s art collection at Sotheby’s in an auction that’s expected to raise more than $9 million. My painting won’t be included in the sale because I used to be too cool to care.

Back in 1991, Jim, one of the few art students in Houston even more arrogant than me and my friends, invited me to be in a group show he was putting together. It was to be called Wisconsin is the Cheese State, a typical example of Gen X humor back then — use the word “cheese” or “weasel” and wait for the laughter to start (or so the theory went).

I contributed a near-monochromatic, hard-edge painting of a living room interior appropriated from a tiny ad in the Yellow Pages. Since I was a clichéd Gen Xer myself, the piece had an accidental pleat on the upper left corner of the canvas. I had built the stretcher half-heartedly, and one of the corners was not screwed on correctly. I shrugged it off as the pictorial equivalent of the lo-fi music I listened to. Besides, the exhibition was taking place at the Commerce Street Artists’ Warehouse, a heinous building in an industrial area of town, so I figured it didn’t matter: the only people who would attend would be other losers my age who thought a show with cheese in the title was worth the trip (with the added incentive of cheap beer).

My friends and I made our appearance at the opening, drank some of the cheap beer, sneered at the artwork, and walked around feeling superior to the rest of the visitors, who undoubtedly were doing the exact same thing.

The next day arrogant Jim called me. “Dude, you almost sold your painting — to Edward Albee!”

I had never been much of a theater guy — as far as I was concerned, theater barely ranked above stage magic and street miming — but learning that I had missed out on a sale to the writer of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? really stung.

“So what did he say?” I asked, trying to sound as indifferent as possible.

“He looked at it for a long time, and when he was leaving he said he really liked it, but that it was too bad the corner was fucked up.”

When the show was over, I took the painting home to see if the stretcher could be fixed. It took five seconds with an electric screwdriver to make it perfect. Smells like cheese weasel.

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