It was easy to imagine the elderly artist in a rage, pounding the table with her fists since this was something she had been known to do. Young artists frequently bore the brunt of her attacks, but they were not the only ones. Revered throughout the world, she was small and shriveled but her mind was sharp. Presiding over her weekly salon at the long, scarred table in the center of the room, her sharp mind was in action. The long table made her look even smaller. The walls of the room which had not been painted in decades were gray. Everything in the room appeared to be gray. The furniture—what there was of it—looked nearly as old as the elderly artist. The uninvited were seated in front of her on uncomfortable, mismatched straight-back chairs. I, the invited guest, was also sitting on a straight-back chair but there was a cushion on my seat.
The elderly artist seemed more than old to me. She seemed ancient. Perhaps because of her age, the elderly artist would not stand for any bullshit, especially at her monthly salon though it was likely she had always been that way. I, the invited guest was known as the bullshit detector, so she and I got along well. As I said, her mind was sharp, as sharp as it had always been when the girl, one of the uninvited, rose and approached the table with a portfolio of drawings. The elderly artist looked quickly from one drawing to
another. She responded to each one with a grunt, her face blank. Abstract, minimal, conceptual drawings, the girl called them. Some had a few straight lines, others had a few wavy lines and two or three geometric shapes.
Soulless, I said to myself. Also derivative. Undaunted, the girl rattled on about her work in language she had no doubt learned in art school. Art-speak, I said, under my breath. Even when the elderly artist had finished looking at her work, the girl continued talking about her drawings and how they were about the concept of passing time.
Passing time? the elderly artist repeated. Turning to me, she said, What do you think?
She and I were on the same page as the expression goes. We gave each other a look. Words were unnecessary.
For a moment, the room fell silent.
Only when the girl said, I am going to have a show, did the elderly artist look at her wide-eyed.
“A show?” she shouted, in a voice at least three times her size. “You are going to have a show! ”
Clearly, the girl had touched a nerve. As though she hadn’t heard right, she shouted again, You are going to have a show?
Yes, the girl replied, at a gallery in New Jersey.
Still, the girl was unfazed. I wondered if they teach toughness in art school. I wondered if the girl knew that when the elderly artist was young, she couldn’t find a gallery that would show her work. Did she know that she tried for twenty years without success?
Turning to me, the elderly artist said again, excitedly, She’s going to have a show! Did you hear that?
The elderly artist did not expect an answer. Nor did she get one.
A Tennessee Williams Fellow in Fiction and a Yaddo Fellow, Allen has published nine books, including her latest, The Princess of Herself. She is also a conceptual artist whose work explores how language informs our perception of images.