I find George, holding his nose and staring at a painting of a headless duck.
“Hey, sorry I’m late,” I say, unzipping my jacket. “What is wrong with your nose?”
George turns to me.
“Oh,” he says, in a nasally voice, “they were out of clothespins.”
I look around and notice that everyone in the Gallery had tan splintery little clothespins latched to their noses.
Being a mouth breather, I have to consciously shut my lips and sniff. The result makes me want to vomit. I lift my scarf over my nose.
“What the heck is that?”
George laughs. He points at the headless duck.
“This is an exhibit celebrating Mattias Verde, he paints with…well.” George raises one eyebrow.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
George shakes his head. “I know you don’t like art but I thought maybe this place would interest you?”
“What is this place, even?”
“The Gallery PPM”
I cringe, “Oh, come on.”
“It’s really not, it’s bullshit. No, or well, in this case, actual shit.”
George shrugs and turns back to the painting.
“Is there any art here not painted with shit?”
George motions to another section of the Gallery. I walk in that direction. The direction ends in a corner of many massive paintings on sheets of glass. They don’t make much sense to me but, at least they don’t smell. I peruse for a bit. A pretty girl passes. I pretend to look fascinated by a panel covered in yellow and green paint.
I read the placard, imitating the pretty girl at the painting beside me.
Seven-year-old, Cheeseburger, Four days
“Interesting title,” I say to the girl. She glances over at me, then at the title. I smile. She rolls her eyes at me.
“That isn’t the title.” She says it so snidely that I begin to notice her eyes are just a bit off center.
“Well, what is it then?”
She sighs, “the artist.”
“The artist is a seven-year old boy?”
The girl sneers at me. “Do you even know who Mikail Ulnick is?”
I stay silent and give her a sour look.
She blows air out her nose. I can’t believe how off center her eyes are.
“He takes children and places them in rooms behind glass and puts food on the other side. When they finish painting the glass, they get the food.”
I subconsciously jerk away from the painting. “That’s fucking awful.”
Her eyes darkened. “It’s brilliant, it’s raw, its art in its most pure. Innocence and Hunger. Innocence AND Hunger.”
“Does he kidnap these kids?”
“He gives them an opportunity!”
“To do what?”
“How is he not in prison?”
“He is too smart. He just took four kids last summer. Should be coming out with new work any day now. I can’t wait.”
I glare at her. One of her eyes hangs off her face by a thread it seems, the ugliest person I’ve ever seen.
“You’re a monster, he’s a monster. Hell, I’m getting out of here.”
She snorts and gives me the sort of smile I used to get from the smart kids when I couldn’t stomach cutting open some innocent frog.
I walk back out through the door. Above it in bold black letters it says:
INNOCENCE AND HUNGER
I shudder and walk back towards the shit-painter. George is standing way to close to a painting of a lollipop.
“Can we please go?”
He turns to me and sighs. “Fine, but can you wait thirty seconds. A dance group is performing just over there.”
“Sure,” I say.
We get away from the smell and find a small stage in the corner of the gallery. People gather around it, cell phones out. Four elegant figures stand on the stage. One of them bends down and hits play on a boom box.
The room fills with screams first a woman’s scream, then a man’s, then a child, then together. The dancers stand on the stage motionless.
The crowd stands too, wide eyed and loose jawed. This goes on for three minutes. I stand there listing off all the reasons why I like George in my head.
Finally, one of the figures on stage moves. They bend down and shut off the screaming boom box.
The crowd erupts in applause.
I turn to George; he is clapping his hands raw.
“Art is dead,” I say to him, below the din.
He smiles, “I KNOW RIGHT!”