“Hmm... The Encyclopedic Palace, eh? Vot does it all mean? Vot iz Massimiliano Gioni trying to say, GG, with this so-called concept for the Arsenale?”
I look up from the small pile of fly agaric caps that I’ve been building on the James Leonard postwar modernist desk that is sometimes referred to by cognoscenti as ‘the headmaster’s table’. “I have no idea, Aleksandr, aside from we must find what the great curator is showing at Venice, buy as much of it as possible in the next week and then flip it in the autumn sales,” I reply.
“Da. I see. I think I’m starting to understand this so-called secondary dealing that you are teaching me about. You must remember to invoice me for your services. Vat iz that pile of mushrooms for? Risotto?”
Aleksandr is, of course, fabulously wealthy. And fabulously dim. It’s not a tough gig being his art consultant. I knock back a few of the ’shrooms.
“But look, Aleksandr, it’s not as simple as you think. Every art adviser in the world is boning up on Gioni’s list. And I mean ‘boning’ as in reading, not as in what you’re thinking, you filthy Ruskie.”
I give him a playful slap on his ass, which is covered with a pair of extremely tight D&G tapered jeans. He looks pleased.
“So forget about the obvious ones. Helen Marten, James Richards, Ed Atkins – everyone’s all over that post-Internet stuff,” I continue.
“Same here, GG,” Aleksandr says mournfully. “Jah, I’m post-Internet too, everything iz so boring on these so-called ‘adult sites’ dat I’ve had to start vacking off over the gay stuff. Sometimes even dvarves.” He looks out the window, momentarily lost in thought. “So I get you, GG. You are saying I should instead buy the weird stuff that is beyond the comprehension of most Johnny-come-lately collectors. Ze elderly African Frédéric Bruly Bouabré? Ze eternally puzzling Enrico David? Ze ponderous film lady Tacita Dean? That stuff is fucking unvatchable.”
“God no, not Tacita Dean! We’ll never be able to flip that.” The ’shrooms are starting to have their effect. “We’ll be stuck in a dark room with a 230-minute narrativeless film about an amateur horticulturalist or something shot on 1960s film stock.” I start weeping uncontrollably.
“It’s OK, it’s OK – no Tacita Dean. But if not her, then vat is out there for me to snaffle? Jimmie Durham? Is that Red Indian shit vat I should be sinking my roubles in?”
Aleksandr does a strange dance round the headmaster’s table, whooping and hopping in what I take to be his recreation of a Native American ritual. I scream at this fresh hell.
“Carl Gustav Jung?” suggests Aleksandr. “He is on Massimiliano’s list. Ze spanker. I have zeen the movie with Keira Knightley. Vat an ass!”
I realise that I’m mentally disintegrating. “Anonymous Tantra painting! They’re on the list!” I yell. “Let’s go big on anonymous Tantric paintings.”
Just three days later I’m in a market in Jodhpur in tow with the Russian. I’m blending in by wearing a flamboyant blue saree. So is Aleks, which is raising a few stares from the native Hindoos, although to my mind he looks very Lawrence of Arabia.
“I vant some anonymous Tantra paintings,” Alexandr intones seriously. A procession of market traders produce hundreds of canvases filled with lingams. “I love zis. Forget ze dvarves. I could vack off to these for years, like Sting. I vill have all of zem. Roll zem up! I pay in cash and you can ship zem straight to Sotheby’s.”
I look on in pride. Aleks is learning fast. The midmorning heat is rising. Rickshaw-wallahs parp their horns. Aleks is high-fiving the market traders and throwing roubles into the air while laughing as beggars scramble around his feet. “Jai ho!” he hollers at them in a friendly fashion. A cow meanders past me and I realise that my work with the Russian is done. Here, now, in a market place in Jodhpur, with the terrible beauty of Michel de Certeau’s everyday around me, I realise I have to find Massimiliano’s Encylopedic Palace. I realise the great curator is pointing beyond Venice to something great. Something greater than all of us. I don’t need the secondary market. Bidding a swift farewell to the tearful Russian, I commandeer a rickshaw, get out a bunch of cash and utter the location. The site of all wordly knowledge. The only place where Massimilano’s palace might really be. “Take me to the Serpentine Gallery Summer Party, my friend!”