Archive | December, 2011

Kicking crystal, not Courbet

30 Dec

Stopping in Philadelphia for my first visit since the early Devon days made me remember why I never spent more than two nights at a time there: It’s a wonderful city with one of the best art museums in the country, but from a working standpoint it’s frequently strange and almost never profitable for me.

This is partly because it’s an agency town and partly because so many of the calls I get are from guys who talk a lot on the phone but never close the deal. The “slave” who sends endless texts about what you’ll do to him but neither shows up nor replies when summoned. The man with the Atlanta area code who says he lives downtown, then, after much phone tag, gives you an address 20 minutes away from your hotel that leads to a multi-unit house with no lights on, the porch from which you call saying “I’m downstairs,” to which he replies, “I’ll come down and get you” but doesn’t. (As a bonus, GPS leads you back to the hotel, which has no functioning Internet, via New Jersey, making you pay a $5 toll for crossing the bridge.)

Still, what a place the Philadelphia Museum of Art is. I hadn’t been since seeing its Manet and the Sea exhibition in early 2004, during my final stay there before embarking on the wild road trip that ended my first escorting career.

Eduoard Manet, Departure of the Folkestone Boat, c. 1868-1872. Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr., Collection.

The museum’s Manet seascapes from that exhibition, which was actually a group show, were on view in the permanent collecion galleries, and I think I gave them closer inspection this time than I did during the exhibition. In a March 17, 2004 diary entry — I would have been heavy into crystal meth at this point but still lucid — I wrote that the Manets were “upstaged by a group of electrifying pieces by Gustave Courbet, who must be one of the most dramatic sea painters ever, and (of course) by Whistler, who was represented by much more tranquil but still captivating selections.”

Gustave Courbet, Marine, 1866. Philadelphia Museum of Art. John G. Johnson Collection.

Whistler became very important to me while I was on crystal; though I kicked meth, I never kicked him. More on him later.

The same was true of Courbet, who was even better on land than at sea. My umpteenth-generation abstract expressionism began shifting in search of a way to make a whole picture that had as much painting in it as in this swatch of a Courbet:

Gustave Courbet, The Fringe of the Forest (detail), c. 1856. Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Louis E. Stern Collection.

A couple years later, while I was keeping my head down at the Univeristy of Houston — too busy and idea-bereft to paint and before I the Houston Chronicle provided a critical platform for a few years — the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s stupendous Courbet and Modern Landscape exhibition provided critical nourishment.

The drive up to New York was hell. Remind me never, regardless of what GPS says, to take the Lincoln Tunnel into the city again. Parking the car for a week will cost about what I paid to stay by the beach in Fort Lauderdale.

Reliable Narratives, Untitled, from the Subway Series, 2011. Jpeg. (Caption also applies to the photos below.)

But it’s New York, where anyone fiddling with his phone on the subway can play Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Flashback: Philadelphia story / Bastian King interview — June 5, 2002

27 Dec

Below are two excerpts: one from a June 5, 2002 Devon’s Diary entry and one from an interview recorded that day in Philadelphia, where I’m currently staying, with Bastian King, a Philly-based escort who had done both agency and independent work and who had an interesting perspective as an African-American sex worker. Note — or, if you’re kind, ignore — the very green art writing about the Barnett Newman survey. — Devon Britt-Darby

From the diary entry:

(Bastian and I) met on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I had just seen the Barnett Newman retrospective that’s up through July 7. Newman was an interesting case as an artist, the very sort of painter whose work people who dislike abstract art look at and say, “my ten-year-old can do that.” But his intention was to create art with a “timeless and tragic” subject matter, and people have been known to break down weeping in the presence of his works. While not quite taking me there, his best paintings certainly did move me, and his work is best seen in large groups like those assembled for this well-organized show. He was something of a windbag who made bold claims for the transcendent power of his art, with Biblical references in his titles — that is, the ones that weren’t in Latin or Greek — but his masterpieces like ‘Vir Heroicus Sublimus’ do manage to rise to the challenge. Certainly he was a brilliant colorist: his reds are amazing and in his Stations of the Cross series he used raw canvas and black and white paint, attempting to make “the whole canvas…become color and have a sense of light.” …

A museum guard walks through the National Gallery of Art's permanent installation of Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 20, 2011.

When Bastian and I hugged hello I was surprised by an unexpectedly powerful smell, a familiar one that I couldn’t quite place. It was only when we stopped by my hotel to pick up the camera that we realized he’d spilled a bottle of poppers in his backpack, which he’d picked up for a client (the poppers, not the backpack). Such are the perils of escorting. We couldn’t resist taking a whiff from the bag before commencing with the interview. When life gives you lemons, etc.

From the interview:

Bastian: When I used to run print ads, I forgot once (laughs) to put that I was African-American, and guys would call, cold call, and we’d start talking, and on the phone I don’t have a naturally African-American dialect, because of moving around young, and all that. And then I’d show up, and, you know, I would forget about it; it’s such a non-issue — for me — I’d forget about it, just show up and — (imitates startled client) “Oh! You’re, uh…come on in.” You know, and it would take a little while to smooth that over, and –

Devon: Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Bastian: Guess who’s coming to dinner. Yeah. But actually in one case it was a big turn-on for a guy to find that out.

Devon: Oh!

Bastian: His scene was semi-extreme, but…You know, he was very verbal, liked to use a lot of derogatory, racist language during, you know, sex and…so that was surprising.

Devon: How does that make you feel?

Bastian: I don’t like it. It’s a turn-off. It’s a big turn-off. So there was a lot of acting going on in that call, a lot of acting.

Devon: How do you feel when you come away from a call like that? I mean, like–

Bastian: Richer.

Devon: Richer? (laughs) Well, that’s good.

Bastian: You know, I mean, he was happy; I did my job; I did what I was supposed to do. And at the time, while it’s happening, you try and emotionally distance yourself from it so it doesn’t affect you for after the call. At least I do. And it’s not easy, because all my life — you know, I have kind of activist-like parents, and all my life I’ve been told, you know, “Boy?! Boy?! Boy lives in the jungle with Tarzan; I am not a boy. ” That kind of thing. Got that from my mom…so when you hear it, you immediately want to leap into some kind of activist rhetoric about, “That’s wrong, that’s…not to be PC, but you know it really doesn’t help anybody,” but you know, you’re on a call, and it’s their dime and their time, so you can’t say anything, and you just gotta go along with it, and pretend like it’s what you want too, and that sort of thing. Which I can do pretty well, if I’m given some notice. That one time was a big surprise.

* * * *

Devon: Say we break this down — like, I mean, roughly how many, percentage-wise or whatever, you know, ball-park, of your clients are looking for a black guy versus, you know, you happen to be black and you’re — you’re just, you know, you’re a nice escort, in other words, they’re relatively equal opportunity, so to speak, in terms of who they would hire?

Bastian: I would say that eighty percent are looking for a black guy specifically. And then you know, roughly, the rest are just looking at whoever, you know, is the most available, most affordable, the nicest, reliable, that sort of thing. I mean, not that the others aren’t also, but they’re looking for a speciality. They’re looking for something very, very specific…

Devon: Does that make for fewer evening appointments, or like dinner dates, that kind of thing, because they’re sort of looking for a scene, so it’s –

Bastian: Yes.

Devon: — like a one- or two-hour kind of…

Bastian: Yes. I definitely do not get the calls for overnights, the calls for extended dinners, companion — show companion, dinner companion — that’s rare. A lot — a lot more rare than I’d like it to be. Because then it’s a lot easier to just be yourself — or for me to just be myself — and I prefer getting to know people. You know, if you’re going to be intimate with somebody, it’s easier if they get to know you and you get to know them. Other than: Walk in the door, you’re pigeonholed even before you get there, you act it out and you leave. A lot of one-hours. But (smiling) I’m happy that they’re there. Don’t get me wrong.

The universe is efficient

24 Dec

Ruthlessly, maddeningly efficient, giving you what you need only when you absolutely, positively need it and not a second before or after.

I’m not sure how the dancers in Washington, D.C. make their real money, though fortunately the same hasn’t been true for me. (Even with the holidays and my ad hitting Rentboy.com at the last minute, it’s as good a market as it was during the early Devon days. Finally I’m offsetting some of this road trip’s financial hemmorhaging.)

At the bars I went to in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, they had backrooms. Not so Tony’s Corner Pocket in Houston, but there’s a Best Western next door. Come to think of it, there are several hotels near the place I’ve been hanging out, and there’s a park nearby where one of the patrons said he’s heard dancers and patrons sometimes go in the summer. And I imagine some of the dancers just work for tips.

Whatever the case, in I go with my fedora and an I-know-that-ho sticker on my chest and they work their usual magic. Somehow they facilitate honest connections and spark exactly the conversations I need, if not always the ones I have in mind. (They’re not all friendly ones, either; a close friend back in Houston and I had a row by text and phone and he declared, not for the first time since I left the paper, that he was “done” with me, which was what an ex always used to say until I called his bluff. But I was wearing my fedora and sticker, and sure enough the truth came out.)

There was the devastatingly sexy barback, for example, who overheard me explaining to a customer that believe it or not — no, really — there are enough guys who aren’t into anal sex that I can make a living without it, or at least I could back in the day. His ice-water blue eyes fired up and he wrote Fetlife.com on a card and gave it to me, explaining that it’s like Facebook for people with fetishes. (It was an early night in my stay and I was worried about my prospects. I haven’t had a chance to fill out my profile yet, but I will.)

Last night he told me about two of his kinks — one I’d never heard of, but that he discovered around the same age I discovered one of mine — and one that aligned perfectly with mine. Something was smoldering under those ice-water eyes; I was as sure of it as every customer who’s ever flirted with bar staff has ever been. (He even poured my drinks! Barbacks never pour drinks!)

“What are you doing Xmas?” I asked. “I know you’re not working.” (The place will be closed; I checked.)

“I’m going over to a friend’s house,” he said.

“All day and all night?”

“Pretty much.”

Meanwhile I’d been chatting with a lanky blank chef who’d sidled up to me to say how beautiful I was. Hearing his accent, I asked where he was from.

“Côte d’Ivoire?” I asked. “It’s got to be one of the Francophone African countries.”

“No, but you’re good!”

“Cameroon’s both Anglo- and Francophone, right?”

“You’re good!”

“But still wrong? Where else, where else? I’ve had two vodka-Diet Cokes.”

Finally he wrote the letters S and E on a card and I got it. Senegal, though he’d mostly grown up in Paris, where he’d worked his way through culinary school as a stripper. We’re both 42, though he’s a few weeks younger than me, having been born on Nov. 18, which is, needless to say, my wedding day.

Also needless to say, he wanted to fuck me.

When I made clear that wouldn’t happen, he said it didn’t matter, that I was his brother.

“I’m your brother from another mother,” I said.

“Oh, no, I can’t call you that! I only call my best friend that!”

The chef’s best friend is an escort. We tried to connect with him but he was on an overnight.

“I have to get up early anyway,” I said, before toddling out just as the barback was making his way downstairs. I grabbed him.

“I have to go,” he said.

“Will I get you alone before I leave town?” I asked.

“No,” he said, and slipped off. Oh, the things he could have taught me!

None of the museums in Washington, DC — at least none of the ones I want to visit — will be open for Xmas, so I looked up the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, which I badly wanted to see but had to skip on my way up. It’s open 365 days a year. The minister/pig-semen tycoon who officiated at my wedding is driving up from Norfolk to meet me there. He’s never been to Richmond. The universe is efficient.

Flashback: The greeter — April 8, 2003

23 Dec

Maybe I’m already nostalgic for the island-culture vibe I felt during my recent stays in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, with their large Caribbean populations. Or maybe with yesterday officially marking the start of winter I wish I was somewhere warmer, though the weather has been unseasonably mild. But the likeliest explanation for today’s flashback is that I got word yesterday one of my favorite characters in the original Devon’s Diary may be joining me for part of this open-ended road trip, which I plan to extend all the way to the West Coast after I’m done retracing the 2004 wild ride that led me to the loony bin. The entry below marked his introduction to readers as I wrapped up my first — and thus far, only — visit to Honolulu. The brazenness of our encounter startled me as I reread this today. But if you ever get the chance to have sex in an airport restroom, do it. Previous flashbacks are here and here.– Devon Britt-Darby

Devon and the greeter - 2003

Got up early this morning to pack, send a few emails and take one last walk along the beach before returning to my hotel for the 9:45am pickup for the airport (my Expedia package included transportation each way). To my horror, we arrived at the airport three hours before my flight’s departure, but this turned out not to be a bad thing. They have a beautiful garden with Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian sections you can stroll around, and I was doing just that when I saw one of the cute Polynesian greeters who had met my incoming flight on Thursday. He was sitting by himself, writing in what looked like a diary, and I slowed my pace to a crawl and kept looking back at him till he glanced up and raised an eyebrow in recognition.

“Did you check out our tiny bar scene?” he asked by way of an icebreaker, not that one was necessary as I already had rather warm feelings for him. I repeated a few observations which were fresh in my mind from last night’s entry and he said that he’s dying to escape this paradise that so many mainlanders wish to escape to. “It’s great to visit,” he said, “but it sucks to grow up here.” He’s already lived on every island, to, and can scarcely go anywhere on any island without running into someone he knows.

Although I love the local speech patterns, which are slow and musical and sound like a fusion of the accents of Native Americans, French Canadians and ‘Fargo’ cast members, I also liked that he didn’t have one. I could relate to the rebellion against parochialism, to the desire to flee a smothering environment. (This is not to say that he isn’t proud and fond of his native culture: he said he hates the thought of leaving and then Hawai’i getting blown up since it’s the number one strategic target in the US. I asked if that wouldn’t be better than NOT leaving before Hawai’i got blown up, and he looked sad and said that everyone he loves lives there.)

He said he was considering a move to San Francisco and I did my best to encourage him. We bemoaned the fact that we hadn’t flirted when I first arrived; he said he would have been my tour guide and shown me around town. “I’ll be your tour guide when you come to San Francisco,” I said, and he said he’d take me up on that.

Money is a consideration; he’s not sure what he’d do for it in SF. “You could always do what I do,” I said, and he replied, “Been there, done that.” He does still go-go dance, and I relished the thought of watching his tall, slim, toned body writhing around onstage. Then I started — or, more accurately, resumed — relishing the thought of his tall, slim, toned body writing around in my arms, and asked if there wasn’t anywhere we could go.

He briefly brainstormed, then took me to a few places where he and some of his co-workers sneak off to smoke pot between greeting flights. Honolulu International Airport is better suited than most airports for transgressive activities due to the comparatively small number of flights that depart and arrive, especially since the airlines started reducing the number of trips. But everywhere we went there were still one or two people around, until we found a little nook that was under construction and empty.

We began kissing and I was instantly in heaven; he snogs with the best of them. We groped and caressed and began to undo each other’s belts and zippers. He dropped to his knees and fished out my cock.

At which point we heard a security guard approaching.

“Shit,” we hissed and swiftly put ourselves back together. We assumed casual, hanging out positions and waited for the guard to walk up.

“I’ll just tell him you’re my boyfriend and we were saying goodbye and didn’t want to make people uncomfortable,” the greeter whispered. I was tempted to respond that he qualified as my third longest relationship but thought it wasn’t the time for witticisms.

The guard came into view, saw us, nodded and said, “Howzit?” (as in, “How’s it going?”) and kept on walking.

“That is so fucking hilarious,” the greeter whispered, and we began picking up our bags. The guard swung back by and asked, “You guys leaving?” and we responded in the affirmative. “He has a flight to catch,” the greeter added. “Okay,” said the guard, and we made on our merry way.

“That is the funniest thing that’s ever happened,” said the greeter as we made our way to the nearest bathroom. We really were in a virtually empty part of the airport, and we had the loo to ourselves, so we went into the wheelchair stall and made out and exchanged blowjobs. Every inch of him is beautiful, and I loved taking his cock out of my mouth, slapping myself across the face with it, and sticking it back in. Finally he whispered, “You’ve got a flight to catch and I’ve got one to meet,” and we began buttoning and zipping ourselves back up.

At that point someone came in and used the stall next to ours, and we smiled at each other and kissed softly until he left, then we slipped out one at at time and headed over to the sinks.

“I have broken so many company rules and airport regulations today,” he said with satisfaction as we walked to catch and greet our respective flights.

Our gates were nearly adjacent. The greeter arrived at his just as the first passengers were deplaning and I barely caught my flight.

How marrying a woman made an honest gay man of me (draft), Part 3

22 Dec

Note: This is the third in an occasional series of excerpts from a draft of an as-yet-unpublished essay that I originally intended for the Houston Chronicle, my former employer. It turned out to be too long to fit anywhere in the print edition, but my editors were willing to consider posting it on 29-95.com, the Chronicle’s entertainment website, with changes I was unwilling to make. The fact that I was unwilling to make those changes, however, does not mean I don’t think the essay could use some improvement, so I welcome feedback from readers. References to dates such as “last week” will make more sense if you consider the draft was filed shortly before Thanksgiving. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Except as noted, all photos in this post were taken by Timothy Gonzalez for the Darbys. It’s funny how sometimes just doing a simple copy-and-paste can make you cry. — Devon Britt-Darby

Then, suddenly, the place went from empty to packed with exactly the right mix of art-scene fixtures and people who had no idea what was about to happen. Reese gave me a fright by arriving later than planned — she had gone to 817 Dallas instead of 817 W. Dallas, which is Tony’s address — but once she arrived, time went from moving at a glacial pace to racing at warp speed. (Her experience was the opposite, at least until the ceremony started. Then it went by like a flash for both of us.)

As for the ceremony, the critic in me could rattle off a million and one blunders in my execution. Suffice to say the lack of rehearsal showed, but the audience didn’t seem to mind.

My best man, whom I met 20 minutes before the wedding, helps me unwrap my bride's Ring Pop. Photo taken with my phone by a nice man whose name I can't remember for the Darbys.

Everyone else was amazing: Reese, Christian (Chiari, who officiated), the stripper I met for the first time who served as my best man, emcee and drag queen extraordinaire An’ Marie Gill, and the crowd, each and every member of which I count as an indispensable collaborator.

As hastily planned, Christian gave Reese her first kiss as a married woman. My best man gave me my first kiss as a married man. But when someone in the crowd shouted, “kiss her,” you’d better believe I complied.

When Christian said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Darbys,” we tossed our variation on the traditional wedding bouquet: Some Longings Survive Death (for the Darbys), an artwork conceived by Dario Robleto for the occasion. It consisted of a sheet of paper — one side featuring an image of cut-paper Victorian bridal flowers, the other information about the piece — folded into a paper airplane. (Reese unexpectedly carried a traditional bouquet of actual flowers anyway, which made things a bit confusing onstage, but I wouldn’t have married a woman who didn’t have a mind of her own.)

We threw dozens of bouquet-planes into the crowd to express our wish that everyone who wants to marry — or to stay single — be equally free to do so. (If you want one, a PDF of Robleto’s image is here; my text on the reverse side is here. Print two-sided on a single sheet of paper and fold into your own bouquet plane. The PDF is huge and will take awhile to appear in your browser. This giveaway owes a debt to one of Robleto’s heroes, the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who died of AIDS in 1996. While I was at the Chronicle, I wrote about the Robleto artwork that would later inspire this piece here.)

Then Reese led me offstage by my leather dog collar, which I wore with my tux in lieu of a bowtie, and the reception, which included An’ Marie’s lip-sync of Chapel of Love and an amateur strip contest, began.

It was beyond magical. Museum directors, strippers, gallerists, bartenders, artists, patrons, Houston Chronicle colleagues, people I see at society events, people from my gym, people from all parts of my multifaceted present and my various colorful pasts — some physically present, others symbolically so — gave us the warmest, sincerest congratulations imaginable. I couldn’t detect a trace of sarcasm.

I’ll admit the ones from “non-art” people meant the most. Dancer after bartender after dancer after customer after dancer said, “I understand the statement,” or “Thank y’all for doing this for us” — to which I could only say “thank you” in return, over and over and over again. We did mean to do it for them — hence the subtitle An Offering From the Darbys —and it meant the world that they let us.

Part 4 is here.

The Art Guys double-down on the stupidity

20 Dec

CultureMap’s Tyler Rudnick endured a god-knows-how-long b.s. session with The Art Guys to bring the world these deep thoughts about the recent vandalism of the tree they pretended to marry, only to outsource its care to the Menil Collection, which didn’t take its safety any more seriously than they did:

“There’s an irony to this protest that doesn’t seem to get discussed,” (Jack) Massing said. “If you have a group of people trying to get their rights under the law — and I totally believe in equal marriage rights — trying to violate someone else’s right to make art seems like odd choice.”

I’m glad I didn’t read that with a mouthful of coffee. Don’t look now, Jack, but I discussed that irony at length in this post two weeks ago, which quoted a draft of an essay that was originally intended for my former employer, the Houston Chronicle, but which I’ve been posting in installments on this blog instead:

I also knew deaccessioning — the process of removing a work from a museum’s collection, which is rightly governed by strict ethics codes — wasn’t and mustn’t be an option. Nor could vandalizing, harming or killing the tree — a toxic distortion of the principles of civil disobedience that too many rightfully angry people suggested.

There were also issues of artistic and curatorial freedom at stake. Though I’ve harshly attacked The Art Guys’ piece and the museum’s acquisition in language that hurt plenty of people’s feelings — just as the Menil’s acceptance of the tree broke the hearts of some of its most ardent admirers — if curators and artists can’t have the freedom to get things wrong, we might as well burn down the museum.

The title of the post called the vandalism of the tree a “Taliban-style response,” which I’d think most people — Massing apparently not included — would agree suggests that the vandal(s) lacked respect for The Art Guys’ right to make art.

Back to the CultureMap story:

“We do stuff in public contrary to a lot of social norms,” (Michael) Galbreth said. “In some ways we ask for criticism like this. But we always do our work in an open and self-critical way. We’re not asking anyone to do anything. We’re just inviting them along to watch.”

In fact, The Art Guys haven’t shown a whiff of self-criticism and have rejected others’ criticism of The Art Guys Marry a Plant as invalid, despite claiming from the outset that the response to the piece would shape its meaning. Don’t believe me? Look no further than the end of the story:

Long a suspect in JFK’s shooting, Louis Steven Witt was brought before a U.S. House committee to explain why he was the only person in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 carrying an umbrella. For years, conspiracy theorists speculated on Witt’s involvement, going so far as to suggest his mysterious black umbrella was equipped with a gun. In the end Witt claimed it was only a simple act of protest about Joseph Kennedy’s actions at the start of World War II.

Galbreth sees similarities with that situation and the criticism of the Marry a Plant piece.

“You can’t just assign these meanings to things, these sinister meanings that don’t exist,” he said. “It’s not fair. You can’t put a gun in the umbrella.”

Leave it to Galbreth to say it’s “not fair” to assign meanings to an artwork, particularly an artwork whose meaning was supposed to be shaped by the public response to it. Well, I suppose that’s consistent with making a social sculpture that asks viewers to ignore the social context in which it occurs. As for comparing himself to Witt, let’s not forget Galbreth didn’t mind the gun being put in the umbrella shortly before they staged the mock wedding in 2009:

The Art Guys Marry a Plant has nothing to do with the country’s hottest civil rights issue, they say, although they both support the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“I don’t even care about that,” says Galbreth of the gay-marriage issue. “It doesn’t even warrant discussion. I’m happy that the issue is out there because it helps promotes us, in a crude sense, when the people mistakenly think that it’s a political gesture, which to my mind, it’s not.”

Notice that even before the “wedding” I identified The Art Guys as marriage-equality supporters and pointed out that they said the piece wasn’t about gay marriage. Further down in the same story, I quoted Massing’s suggested reading of the piece — that it’s “an acknowledgement of man’s existence and how it bumps up and interacts with nature.”

I did say the piece “inadvertently reinforces the ‘slippery slope’ argument that if we let gays wed, next we’ll allow people to marry animals, and so on.” Doesn’t the word “inadvertently” should make clear that I wasn’t accusing The Art Guys of doing anything “sinister”? Or is assigning meaning to words — including my own — now also to be deemed “unfair” in Galbreth’s world?

Even that criticism was secondary to what has always been my primary objection:

Press releases notwithstanding, this ‘behavior’ doesn’t blur the boundary between art and life. It draws a bright, bold outline between art and Galbreth’s and Massing’s lives, at any rate. The same federal government that recognizes the Art Guys’ trademark also recognizes their real-life marriages to women.

Nothing they said then or have said since addresses how the interpretations they’ve offered — acknowledging how humans’ existence “bumps up and interacts with nature” or the wedding as a marriage between two abstract entities — square with their claim to blur the boundary between art and life. No, we’re all just supposed to join the Menil in accepting the piece as a successful “social” sculpture with no connection to the society in which we actually live.

Just like we were supposed to take Menil curator Toby Kamps’ word for it when he commissioned the piece for No Zoning, a Contemporary Arts Museum Houston exhibition that celebrated the city’s “art permeability” and artists’ ability to bring art into the unlikeliest nooks and crannies, that a CAMH-commissioned piece performed in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, one of the richest museums in the country, embodied the spirit of that show.

Just like we were supposed to take Galbreth’s word for it when he insisted: “This is an actual wedding. This is not a pretend wedding. When the Art Guys do things, it’s the real thing.”

Not lately it isn’t.

Meanwhile, I can only repeat what I asked two weeks ago:

What does the Menil do next? Keep letting an artwork that it has affirmed as being worthy of its connoisseurship and standards get damaged? If the piece’s vulnerability hasn’t been demonstrated by now, then what will it take? Again, this incident highlights what a thoughtless decision the Menil’s accession of this thoughtless conceptual artwork was.

Notice I said “thoughtless,” not “sinister.” The Art Guys keep falsely complaining about being falsely accused of sinister motives because they don’t want to deal with the real issue with their piece: that it was poorly thought out, which is the meanest thing you can say about a conceptual artwork.

DB-D true Hollywood, Fla. success story

20 Dec

I didn’t try to escort while I was in Florida, partly because it wasn’t a particularly good market for me when I used to visit in the early Devon days — too much competition and too few diary readers there, as I recall. Additionally, my remaining vacation pay from the Houston Chronicle came in during my stay, so I had some income, and at any rate there was too much going on between the art fairs, my visits to the strip joints and the constant flood of memories the trip brought back.

But I did return to Hollywood, where just before and after the fairs I’d picked up a couple batches of I-know-that-ho stickers, which were expertly produced by a union shop named, aptly enough, Union Printing. (Just because I’m disorganized doesn’t mean my labor has to be.)

There — Hollywood, not Union Printing — I made my first reentry into sex work at the home and studio of Paul Bryson, whom I’d met online on a gay non-escort website we both frequent. Bryson’s proclivities and take on masculinity and casual sex match perfectly with my own, so I was excited to be filmed for one of his upcoming Flex-Studio.com productions.

My first-time-in-a-long time jitters notwithstanding, it felt far more natural than other professionally shot adult fare I’ve done. After working out for awhile in gym shorts and a tight red muscle shirt, at Bryson’s bidding I flexed for the camera in increasing states of undress. He quickly picked up how much I enjoy getting punched in the abs and chest.

Paul Bryson's video still of Devon Britt-Darby from an upcoming Flex-Studio.com video

When the situation was coming to a climax a he mounted the camera on a tripod and joined me for the final jack-off scene. Afterwards we hung out and swapped stories while he showed me beautiful large prints of his aerial photography, which is what he does by day. (His bosses know what he does by night, too, enabling Bryson to live openly and unconflictedly.)

As I travel the country honing my vision for my next long-term project — a multipurpose space that would bring my various worlds together the same way my social-sculpture wedding did, it’s only fitting that I met Bryson along the way.

A self-described redneck who’s bounced back from more hard knocks than I can imagine — including working as a day laborer for $50 a day — Bryson now literally soars above the rest of us by day, seeing and recording beautiful sights most of us can only dream of capturing, then swoops down to the sexiest parts of the gutter by night to make still more beautiful images. Like me, I believe he makes no distinction between the two except with regard to the contrasting technical or logistical challenges they present.

I count Bryson as a new friend and a true inspiration, someone who beat the odds to live in as open and exemplary a fashion as I hope to. And I’m honored he chose to make me part of his body of work.

How married life’s treating me — one month in

18 Dec

Dear Reese,

I tweeted you earlier. Seemed appropriate, given how we met and all.

Happy one-month-versary! Do all newlyweds celebrate such little milestones, or am I just more prone to do it because of the ephemeral nature of our bond? Anyway, I’m writing you from Norfolk, Va., where I was reunited with an early painting:

Douglas Britt (now Devon Britt-Darby), Untitled, 1997-1998. Vinyl on canvas. Collection of Christian Chiari, who purchased it after the third-floor residents of the San Francisco Zen Center found it "too disturbing."

I wonder what disturbed the monks and other students on the third floor of the San Francisco Zen Center, where I lived for a year and a half. I gave the Zen Center several paintings when I moved in; this one strikes me as laboring under the twin influence of Mark Rothko and Philip Guston in the late 1950s — Rothko for the color and Guston for the composition and the abstract-impressionist-style brushstrokes. I had been living at the center a few months before the monk who acted as the temple’s curator knocked on my door, telling me he had to give the painting back.

Maybe it was the instability that the unpainted areas introduce into the composition that disturbed them. Or the painting’s overall unfinished quality, something I valued at the time as a way to express the idea that the artwork was in a constant state of becoming. Or maybe they just thought it was a bad painting. Maybe they were right.

At any rate, our minister, Christian Chiari, who by then had already made a small fortune from a company that packaged and sold pig semen — a warm and sticky venture that proved lucrative — told me to put the painting on a Greyhound bus and send it to Los Angeles, where he was living at the time. He gave me $1,000 for it, which was overpaying for an artist with no exhibition history to speak of, largely because he loved the idea that the abstract painting was too darn hot for Zen Center.

Anyway, this trip has been like that — reconnecting, at times deeply and intensely, with various parts of my past through a mixture of freshly jogged memories; renewed connections and intense conversations with old friends; new connections and intense-in-a-different-way conversations with new friends; one strange serendipity after another; and a renewed appreciation for the universe’s mysterious, ruthless efficiency. The way you don’t hear from people until the moment you need it most. Encountering people who remind you of the ones you knew in the loony bin or on the wildest parts of the 2004 ride that led you there — and finding it both poignant and comforting — mostly the latter, it turns out — to be around them.

Encountering great art in many guises — in such institutional settings as the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, N.C.; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, N.C.; the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh; and the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va. – as well as unlikelier spots such as the gay strip bars of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, my motel room in the latter town or our minister’s warehouse.

Linder Lue "Hollywood" Lawrence, Red House, 2011. Collection of Christian Chiari.

Moments like the one I had the other day at the Nasher, where I didn’t need anything more from art than this Bruce Crane not-much-more-than-an oil sketch, whose quiet power the photos unfortunately can’t begin to convey.

Bruce Crane, In New England, no date. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, N.C. Detail shots below.

As long as you saved this one painting from the burning Truckload of Art, I thought, you’d have everything you needed for art to start over again.

There are lonely moments of self-doubt and missed or thwarted connections followed by grace notes dropping in from nowhere in the nick of time. A dancer in Miami who was bigger and stronger than you and made you feel it by crushing you in his arms. Your ex’s email somehow getting through at the haunted hotel in Gainesville, Fla. to tell you that he reached a hard-earned milestone — the process of which took longer than our four-year relationship — and is starting “to see the method to your madness.” The museum spokesperson who can’t be photographed with you but comes down to meet you, give you an appropriately tight t-shirt and accept a few I-know-that-ho stickers on the down-low before talking shop about the art world and the newspaper industry, just as that person would if you were still at the Houston Chronicle. The fucked-up-on-something parking attendent who, as you’re leaving the strip club after waiting in vain to give a painting to a dancer you’d connected with last time you were there, waves your sticker at you like a lighter in the crowd at a concert, giving you the energy you need to make it back to your home away from home. All uncannily timed in a way you can’t plan for.

As for my relationship with you, as the trip progresses, I feel you and me monitoring each other less closely. The fact that we really didn’t know each other well seems to be reasserting its significance in this new social sculpture, the one I’m working on now that, as you pointed out, doesn’t really involve you much beyond the fact that the wedding, by bringing all my worlds together, unexpectedly launched it. In the conversations I’ve sparked about the wedding, the travesty side of our marriage seems to be front and center once again, perhaps because that’s other people’s main window into it.

But it’s the spiritual side of it — moments that replicate or put their own twist on the magic I felt that night when I truly felt whole, like in the original Devon days, but with the benefit of new life experiences — that means the most. I reiterate here a point I made on this blog’s new About Devon Britt-Darby page:

That marriage, itself a performance artwork and social sculpture, brought so many elements of my past and present together in one time and place that I felt a wholeness I’d missed since the early Devon days. Some people thought Reese and I were mocking the institution of marriage, when in fact we were pointing out the myriad ways in which it mocks itself while harming people it excludes. Far from mocking the institution, it turned out marrying as social sculpture gave a loner and a freak like me a way to experience its transformative power for myself.

Thanks for helping make this possible.

Now comes the part where I learn whether there’s a place for me in today’s escorting world. I’m 42 — my real age; advertised age TBD — still slim and muscle-y after all these years and as eccentric and niche-y as it gets. But I’ve broken the ice — one video shoot and one overnight appointment have both been successfully completed, putting me on the boards — and I’m heading to Washington, D.C. tonight for a week.

That’s a city that was always good to me, as were most of the cities that will follow. I spent much of last night and today preparing new pages at the top of the blog to familiarize potential clients with me, my philosophy of casual sex and how I approach escorting.

It’s also an area in which my sister and her newish husband live, so I might get to see them and gauge their reaction to Devon’s re-emergence. When I passed through D.C. on my 2004 road trip I left frothing-at-the-mouth messages on my sister’s voicemail and a few other people’s. Hopefully this trip she’ll notice an improvement.

How’s tricks? And what’s this old allergy accident you speak of on your Twitter feed?

xoxo,

Your husband, Devon

Flashback: Quiver like the leaves — July 13/18, 2004

17 Dec

Note: On July 1, 2004, a meth-engulfed road trip ended with my arrest and detention in Brockton, Mass., where a judge ordered that I be stabilized and monitored at a forensic psychiatric hospital that had previously been known as the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton. After five days, I was put on Zyprexa, the brand name for the anti-psychotic drug olanzapine. The entry below was written on July 13 and mailed to one of several people I trusted with the password to my blog, none of whom once betrayed my trust. It references harmlessdevon.com, a long-defunct website whose launching had the misfortune of coinciding with my crystal meth addiction. I, on the other hand, was fortunate in that my meth addiction was shorter-lived than most because I went insane rather quickly. My friend, who never hired me and whom I met in person only once, posted it on July 18. A previous flashback post is here. — Devon Britt-Darby

Roxy Paine, Askew, 2009. Stainless steel. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, where admission is free and the museum is open until 9 p.m. on Fridays. Paine does not call his metallic structures trees, but Dendroids.

——

The library here in the loony bin (a.k.a. Taunton State Hospital) may not be much, but it does at least have a Norton Anthology of Literature, in which I found a few quotes most pertinent to the future of harmlessdevon.com. Don’t worry if their relevance is not obvious to you; it is to me, and for now, that’s what matters.

Literature may be an artefact, a product of social consciousness, a world vision, but it is also an industry. Books are not just structures of meaning, they are also commodities produced by publishers and sold on the market at a profit. Drama is not just a collection of literary texts; it is a capitalist business which employs certain men (authors, directors, actors, stagehands) to prepare students ideologically for their functions within capitalist society. Writers are not just transposers of trans-individual mental structures, they are also workers hired by publishing houses to produce commodities which will sell.

– Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism, 1976

In disjointed sentences the cook and the correspondent argued as to the difference between a life-saving station and a house of refuge. The cook had said: “There’s a house of refuge just north of the Mosquito Inlet Light, and as soon as they see us they’ll come off in their boat and pick us up.

“As soon as who see us?” said the correspondent.

“The crew,” said the cook.

“Houses of refuge don’t have crews,” said the correspondent. “As I understand them, they are only places where clothes and grub are stored for the benefit of shipwrecked people. They don’t carry crews.”

“Oh, yes, they do,” said the cook.

“No, they don’t,” said the correspondent.

“Well, we’re not there yet, anyhow,” said the oiler, in the stern.

“Well,” said the cook, “perhaps it’s not a house of refuge that I’m thinking of as being near Mosquito Inlet Light; perhaps it’s a life-saving station.”

“We’re not there yet,” said the oiler in the stern.

– Stephen Crane, The Open Boat – A tale Intended to be after the Fact: Being the Experience of Four Men from the Sunk Steamer Commodore, 1897

One ought to know everything, to write. All of us scribblers are monstrously ignorant. If only we weren’t so lacking in stamina, what a rich field of ideas and similes we could tap! Books that have been the source of entire literatures, like Homer and Rabelais, contain the sum of all the knowledge of their times. They knew everything, those fellows, and we know nothing. Ronsard’s poetics contain a curious precept: he advises the poet to become well versed in the arts and crafts – to frequent blacksmiths, goldsmiths, locksmiths, etc., in order to enrich his stock of metaphors. And indeed that is the sort of thing that makes for rich and varied language. The sentences in a book must quiver like the leaves in a forest, all dissimilar in their similarity.

– Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to Louise Colet, April 7, 1854, during the writing of Madame Bovary

How marrying a woman made an honest gay man of me (draft), Part 2

16 Dec

Note: This is the second in an occasional series of excerpts from a draft of an as-yet-unpublished essay that I originally intended for the Houston Chronicle, my former employer. It turned out to be too long to fit anywhere in the print edition, but my editors were willing to consider posting it on 29-95.com, the Chronicle’s entertainment website, with changes I was unwilling to make. The fact that I was unwilling to make those changes, however, does not mean I don’t think the essay could use some improvement, so I welcome feedback from readers. Part 1 is here. — Devon Britt-Darby

Notwithstanding my love of museums and appreciation of nonprofit spaces and galleries’ roles in how art gets to them, I’ve always made my own artwork for a small public dominated by people who rarely, if ever, set foot in those places. The fact that my “non-art” friends have gotten it and been willing to participate in it has usually been enough.

Reliable Narratives, Keepsake (c. 2004), 2010. Iron-on inkjet video-still transfers and acrylic matte medium on unprimed linen.

But to my consternation, many of them wanted no part of this piece. Here I was trying to bring art into one of the last places you’d expect to find it, and one friend after another was ignoring or declining my wedding invitation, taking my gesture as a mockery of an institution that, even though it excludes them, matters to them. I begged them to come to the wedding and state their objections publicly, but even that felt too much like supporting something they couldn’t.

What if this wasn’t art?

(Note: Notice that it wasn’t the reaction, or in some cases lack thereof, of art-scene fixtures that made me question the validity of what I was doing, but that of my “non-art” friends. As this road trip continues, I’m frequently finding the same to be true in reverse; that is, having “non-art” people catch on to what I’m doing is what keeps me going more often than not when self-doubt creeps in, as it routinely does. — DB-D)

All this plus a laundry list of grievances — why was the project being ignored by so many art-world opinion leaders and gay bloggers? Why wasn’t the Menil, where I once was a volunteer, sending anyone to observe? — swirled around my head in the hours leading up to our wedding as I seesawed between staunch resolve and near-paralyzing fear.

That’s the trouble with ego. It makes you too sure and too unsure of yourself at the worst possible moments.

Part 3 is here.

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