Sunday Apr 20, 2003

The Exclamation Point

The large stone three-story monolithic type building stood one block from the Pacific Ocean on the borderline between Venice and Santa Monica. There was no sign or name on the front, and it was clear the owner didn’t want company.

I did learn that the building was the property of a real estate developer who had made a fortune in Orange County during the mad rush to buy a house boom of some years ago.

But, what was inside the building?

After delving further, I discovered that the building housed the real estate mogul’s private art collection. I had to see this for myself.

I managed to get an appointment with the curator, a tall woman with a curt disposition. I had to promise not to divulge the scope of the collection. There were several more women working in the main office—a model of a well designed work space.

The curator lady showed me around. Rooms and rooms filled to the high ceilings with all manner of artworks. The curator explained that the owner was buying up all sorts of art. The translation was this: The mogul didn’t know art from Art Bell, so was he was playing the odds—buying this or that. Who knows what posterity will value?

As we walked into yet another large white room, one wall was nearly bare, except for what looked like a small exclamation mark hung in the center. It was about a foot high and was in two pieces: the upper part and the dot below created the punctuation mark.

“What is this?” I said.

“Oh, yes,” said the curator, “It’s by this up and coming artist and Mr. So and So just had to have it.”

“Mr. So and So just had to have it,” I said, sounding like a parrot. “It’s a punctuation mark.”

“Yes. Mr. So and So thinks it’s brilliant, too.”

“Brilliant for its minimalist approach, no doubt,” I offered. “And he must have paid quite a sum for it, too.”

“Precisely. In the six figures. I can say no more.”

I left the building and the vast collection of artworks that day feeling that somehow poetic justice was being served. The “land developer” had payed hundreds of thousands of dollars for a wooden cut out exclamation point.

How much, I wondered, would he have paid for an ampersand?»

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