Dialogue with the Youth of Today

I. Kurator’s assistant Rodolf finds a novel use for a Martin Kippenberger ashtray...

By I. Kurator

“Colours shone with exceptional clarity in the rain. The ground was a deep black, the pine branches a brilliant green.” I lean back and look at Rodolf expectantly. He looks back at me entirely cluelessly.

“Murakami, for god’s sake boy. You know dissociative protagonists, lots of cats, bizarre dream sequences. Like Artforum’s boardroom.”

Rodolf still looks blank.

“OK, let’s get back to business! Look, if someone is willing to spend $450 million on a work that experts think is a Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, we’ve got to muscle in! Have we still got any of those ‘Frans Hals’ or ‘Lucas Cranach the Elders’ knocking about it in the cellar? We could phone up our chums at the houses and see if there’s any space in their contemporary auctions for a bit of ‘early Vermeer’ if you get my drift!”

“I’m afraid we’re totally out Ivan,” Rodolf replies. “I had to get rid of them all pronto after a box of your personally signed certificates of authenticity were found next to those half-painted Pollocks during the Knoedler trial.”

“I made a knife to cut fruit,” I protest. “If others use it to kill, blaming me is unfair! And more importantly, how are we supposed to make some proper money? I mean, I can’t survive on a curator’s salary…”

“But nobody actually pays you a curator’s salary Ivan…”

“How about I go back to putting exhibitions on at great European institutions but tip off collectors beforehand so they can hoover up the work?” I interrupt. “It’s remarkable that no-one’s thought of that.”

Rodolf coughs. It must be the weather. Bloomsbury is just so damp in December.

Rodolf sits down in the Queen Anne highback leather armchair. This is a surprise, the dear boy never sits when I am standing

“I could initiate an exhibit-as-you-gift service for patrons here in London, the type of thing that got delightful Yoo Byung-eun his exhibition at the Louvre back in 2012….”

Rodolf sits down in the Queen Anne highback leather armchair. This is a surprise, the dear boy never sits when I am standing. I snakehip-shuffle closer to him and think what the Dark Knight would do in this situation. Truth be told, I’m less experienced than my American peers and compatriots. I wonder whether this is the moment when I should reach out and tweak his nipples but the idea seems oddly absurd. Does one tweak both in the same direction or in opposite ways? Does one tweak back when has reached a particular moment of torsion? And then does one just do it again?

My thinking is interrupted by Rodolf.

“Ivan, come on, this isn’t why I joined you as an unpaid intern all those months ago. Surely you’ve had enough of curators on the make, of senior artworld professionals getting sleazy on juniors with the vague promise of a promotion? What about making crucial exhibitions, or discovering and supporting artists who one day will alter the course of art history? Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

He casually picks up my Martin Kippenberger resin ashtray, one of just 50 in existence in the world, and chucks it towards my crown jewels. His aim is true and I reel around the room clutching the Kippie and groaning.

Rodolf stands up. “When I read about you whilst researching my dissertation at the Courtauld Institute I read about a fearless curator who would stop at nothing to critique the institution, while simultaneously offering shows to artists whose radical practice would question the ontological reality of the very walls that you placed them on.”

As I stumble around, my nads still numb with pain, he trips me up. I fall headfirst into the fireplace.

“I imagined I would come here and work for no money but for a constant diet of intellectual stimulation. I thought you would dismiss collectors rather than make phonecalls to them about who you wanted to shoehorn into your latest half-baked idea for a show.”

He picks up the antique brass fire poker. 

“I thought you would spend your time in the high intellectual pursuit of truth and beauty, holding salons here in Bloomsbury with fellow curators, rather than revelling in the gossip of who was next in the roll-call of shame that now casts its shadow on the artworld.”

I have to admit, he’s very handsome when he’s angry. I twist my neck so that I can try and communicate this but all I can do is utter a strange groan.

He strikes me firmly in the head with the poker.

He moves towards the fireplace. He’s picked up the Kippie ashtray. In my daze I remember the joke. ‘Kippenbecher’ is of course colloquial German for ashtray. Liver cancer got dear Kippie in the end. The endless drinking, dancing, fighting and singing. I remember him pulling down his trousers, dancing round parties before trying to have a fist-fight. What would he have made of the artworld now? After he was beaten up by Berlin punks, he made a painting of himself bandaged up and called it Dialogue with the Youth of Today. I look up. Rodolf makes a stride towards me, raising the ashtray. He is my youth of today. Outside, I think it must still be raining. I Kurator