At stake? The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art. Donated by famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz 's wife, Georgia O'Keefe, some sixty years ago, the collection is a seventy-four million dollar powerhouse peopled by such masters as Toulouse-Latrec, Picasso, Diego Rivera as well as O'Keefe herself. The problem? Sell it, or Fisk goes down the tubes. And who's buying? You ready? Walmart heiress Alice Walton, that's who.
While this less-than-welcomed transaction wanders through the courts (the current legal wrangling hinges upon collection mobility for dual display purposes under terms of a yet unannounced contract) you can almost read the cards; Walton drags out the legal end -- like she doesn't have the money to do so -- until even the most well-meaning of local art aficionados will just throw up his or her hands in disgust. On the public end -- well, Alice knows everybody's watching television. Translation? Nobody gives a s --- . Which might be the whole idea.
As for the collection itself? Eventually, from the way these things seem to go, it'll end up in an as yet to be built museum somewhere in Bentonville, Arkansas. Neat, huh? Imagine it if you can -- Half Price Cezanne Daze, those awful hanging signs with "Alice Fuentes", or whoever the hell she is, handing us a line of crap about her great job at "WalArt" (new museum name), sales coupons in little plastic display thingeys next to the works themselves offering discounts on that particular artist's Chinese-produced prints in the mind boggling "Gift Shoppe" where great art is reduced to a commodity and you can get a National Enquirer, a five pack of "Bic" lighters and a silver package of "Mentos" while you wait in the interminable check-out line.
It used to be "art" was a public thing. Oh, there were some millionaires (Remember them? They're called "the middle class" now) who hogged a couple of masterpieces, staining them with cigar smoke as they'd stare at them, alone, in dark, wood-paneled man-caves clothed in neighborhoods that remain locales you and I can safely plan on never residing. But most of it was out in the open, sponsored by a couple of corporate titans who wanted their names engraved on a rock... and nothing else. Great art was, with the aid of some tax dollars as well, ours.
But those were the days when "giving" meant something. It was an important trait -- a way of showing gratitude to the community where you'd made your fortune (and getting your name engraved on a rock to boot), a little something, as hypocritical as it might seem, "given" back. It mattered.
They used to call us "The 'Me' Generation"-- as in me, myself and I -- the power source that ignited when the Iranian imams took over the American Embassy in Tehran. That little slight-of-hand produced Reagan, and it was all downhill from there. By the end of the nineties we were fat, sassy and pliable as clay. "Everyone can be rich! You just need the right attitude!"
Then came Bush/Cheney.
I'll spare you the details other than here we are ten years later, with a couple of creeps owning everything and the rest of us working so hard we haven't got time for art, or much of anything else for that matter. And when we do get a little time off for some music or sports or get-togethers, it's bound to be sponsored by something. Miller Lite! Budweiser! McDonalds! Taco Bell! They want to own us as consumers and I'm getting the impression that if they had the opportunity to sponsor every event in our daily lives ("Home Depot presents Tom Taking A Dump") they'd happily do it. Outlandish? Unthinkable? Well, so was Sharon Angle. And look at her now.
And they're trying to get their hands on our public art this time, the very things that used to inspire us as kids passing by one at a time on public school field trips (remember them?), our teachers spinning tales of times long past. However, if I want to see a fair chunk of Toulouse-Latrec's work today I'll soon have to venture off to Bentonville, Arkansas for the privilege. And you know what? I don't want to go to Bentonville, Arkansas. Not now. Not ever. Never.
In many ways the corporations (rather the folks who run them) are slowly but surely sucking our souls from us like Taibbi's bloodsucking squid our hard-earned cash. They're trying to homogenize us, drain the very essence of whatever it is that inspires us to great art, great accomplishment, the great enthusiasm we used to exude as a race before our minds were captured by their sitcoms and video games and sugar-laced this, that or the other. They're confiscating our personal images, trying to steal us from ourselves, rend us commodities, "soybeans" as one plant manager put it, things to be manipulated, used, bought, sold.
Maybe I just don't want to go to Bentonville, Arkansas for a dose of Picasso, but I think it's more than that. I don't like the idea of a store I won't even patronize owning that which I consider sacred. I mean, if Alice decides to drunkenly kick in a Diego Rivera one night, well, she can... because it's hers.
God help us.