A Curator Writes: Crime and Punishment

ArtReview's columnist I. Kurator covers the Peter Doig painting trial and gets in a pickle

By I. Kurator

American Court Room. Courtesy worldfinancialreview.com Volcano Extravaganza 2016, Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy. Courtesy Fioruccia Trust Brindisa Pickled Garlic Cloves. brindisa.com Mystery painting signed 'Pete Doige'. Courtesy Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times Julian Schnabel (left) in Olatz Pajamas, Mexico, 2015. olatz.com

Back from my travels around Europe I am immediately dispatched by the editor to Chicago to cover the Peter Doig trial with the words “You’re the only person left in the office, the others are still recovering from participating in intense telephone haiku in Stromboli with the Fiorucci lot.” I have no idea what the great man is talking about but am not complaining when my Delta-KLM combo flight bumps down in Chicago just 21 hours after taking off from Heathrow (“it’s the cheapest flight by £3” explained the accounts guy). After all I had been careful to smuggle on board two jars of Brindisa's pickled garlic cloves that perked up the braised veal and horseradish that KLM erved up nicely.

The trial itself is baffling. A former corrections officer (his title inexplicably brought my fellow holder of a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres Robert Storr to my mind) claims that the teenage Doig sold him one of his paintings in 1976 at Thunder Bay Correction Centre, Canada, and mysteriously signed it ‘Pete Doige 76’ suggesting that not only was the painter a teenage delinquent but that he couldn’t spell his own name. The defence argue that the painting was not made by our Peter Doig but a deceased amateur painter and convict, Peter Doige, who was incarcerated in Thunder Bay in 1975. Doig takes to the stand and denies ever being in Thunder Bay or having a criminal conviction in Canada or indeed seeking employment from the Seafarers Union at any point, a job which the owner of the painting says he helped Doig find as his then parole officer.

The trial drags on for days and I spend large amounts of time sketching the oddly handsome visage of Doig. And then making wild imaginative sketches of the brutish looking Doige. Rather oddly the existing photos of the scoundrel show him to look uncannily like an older, rougher version of our Doig, so in many sketches I simply added a few earlobe hairs and chin layers to my Doig sketches. I also do a few rather blue sketches imagining my own fate in a 'correctional facility' but keep these to myself. The ushers come to think that I am the court artist, sketching for the local newspaper and reserve the best seat in the public gallery for me. Doig and I get to be on nodding terms.

Finally on the last day of the trial I can take no more of this fiasco. As the team for the plaintiffs prepare to make their summing up I stand up. I want to quote from Rosalind Krauss’s seminal 1986 essay ‘The Originality of the Avant Garde!, I shout. I know I only have moments until the ushers and security get to me. “We do not care if the copyright papers are all in order; for what is at stake are the aesthetic rights of style based on a culture of originals. Sitting in the little theater, watching the newest Gates being cast, watching this violation, we want to call out, Fraud!”

I fix the Plaintiffs with a stern look as I am overpowered by security. In the resultant scuffle I think I see Doig give me a thumbs-up. In response I try to start rapping N.W.A’s Express Yourself, which I have come to understand is a seminal song by said urban music collective. I came across the tune by chance whilst googling Julian Schnabel's brand of pyjamas some time ago but it has stuck in my mind ever since.

“I’m expressin’ with my full capabilities! And now I’m livin’ in correctional facilties!". An elbow is planted in my mouth. I am dragged off. Goodness knows what awaits – I have watched boxsets of Oz whilst attempting to Netflix and chill with one of the magazine’s more junior members of staff. I do hope the editor has the change for a good attorney. 

For previous columns by I. Kurator see here 

Online exclusive published 19 August 2016.