Mathes Missive from Moscow #10 – Thursday: VIP Night Owls
Good morning from Moscow,
The rhythm of the day here is much different than in the U.S. or, Jane says, in Europe. Since we arrived we’ve been working until about 10:00 pm, but it’s still quite light outside at that hour and many other people are going to dinner. We rarely get back to our rooms at the Sheraton before midnight, whereupon I work on these missives until after two. Now that the regular hours of the fair have commenced (2:00 pm until about 9:30 pm, as opposed to 10:00 am to 10:00 pm when we were setting up), I can write in the morning from the time I get up at 7:30 until noon. At that point we have to eat and get ready to leave for the fair. Marat picks us up at 1:15. I generally polish the previous day’s missive each night, polish it again the next morning (what, you thought maybe they popped out full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus?) and then start another. In this way, I can generally stay a day ahead. We now have an internet connection at the fair, so I don’t have to purchase an internet card at the hotel ($28 for 24 hours WIFI — no discount for longer amounts of time). This is why you haven’t been hearing about the usual tourist spots. When in this schedule is there time for us to tour the Kremlin?
Anyway, we can almost slip into a routine on Thursday, except that this is the “VIP Night Owls” night, when the Fair will be open from the usual 2:00 pm until 11:00 o’clock in the evening. The rational for this seems to be to accommodate some kind of round table discussion tonight from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm by the auction houses, which have set up booths at the front of the Manege. As in America, people here don’t like to go somewhere just before closing. In New York the fairs stay open until at least seven or seven thirty, so that folks will come at 6:00 pm after work. Here the organizers seem to think of the dealers rather as animals in the zoo, to be paraded out and left on display for the convenience of the public for any length of time. And if it will lead to a sale, that’s really fine by us (the fact that there’s nowhere in the Manege where a person can get something simple to eat or even a bottle of water — Julia says that nobody drinks from the tap — is something else)..
There are many reasons for this — most of which are secret, as you know. When people (and especially other dealers or journalists) ask how we’ve done we always say that we’ve met a lot of interesting people. This is actually always true. Some of these encounters may lead to sales, though the time frame is sometimes measured in years. You can seem to do badly at a fair, but in the long run it may turn out brilliantly. Conversely, some successes can be costly in ways that are not immediately apparent. You can sell hundred million dollars worth of stuff (well, maybe Larry Gagosian can), but what does it mean if the stuff cost you ninety five million dollars and you’ve incurred ten million dollars worth of expenses? Moscow is an incredible gamble for us, and we’ve known from the outset that it will probably take years to understand what it has really meant for the gallery. Jane has more than just courage to have brought us here. She has vision. (Early on, I suggested that in addition to her other sterling qualities Jane perhaps also possessed “perhaps just the teensiest bit of lunacy.” I’ve shared all of these missives with her from the outset. That was the only thing she’s objected to. “I am insulted,” she said, “why only a little bit of lunacy, why not a whole lot? I don’t like to do things half way.”)
Anyway, after another lunch at the hotel coffee shop (Jane did not feel the need to torment any waitresses today), Marat drove us over to Manege and for half an hour Jane and I finally were able to do what both of us enjoy the most at work: staring off into space.
Here are some views of the wood-paneled booth is our neighbor, Steinitz, one of the biggest Parisian antique dealers — remember all of his crates blocking the aisle outside our booth at the setup? There’s probably 20 million dollars worth of stuff there (the million dollar price tag on the paneling includes shipment and installation). The chandeliers must have been a whole lot of fun to pack and ship, don’t you think?
Julia, still looking very nice but still not feeling very well, shows up with her mother and a passel of cousins from her home town of Ryazan, which she says is about a three hour trip from Moscow. They have taken the train in, then the subway to the Manege — another twenty minutes or so. They will go back later today, but don’t seem to have minded the commute. Julia’s mother, though, knew there was something wrong from the moment she saw her from fifty feet away:
“Juuuuuuulia! Have you made yourself sick?”
Julia’s mother is an electrical engineer. Julia actually majored in physics in her education, which she says have been very valuable in her work as a personal trainer, simultaneous translator and gypsy dancer. Julia’s mother seems like quite a different type of person than Julia. Mother and daughter relationships are very complicated.
Terri comes by after three with sandwiches again (it was Zum, not Gum, where she bought them – both are department stores of the Harrods persuasion). She has slept better. Her hotel, the Savoy, is much closer to the Manege than ours and quite elegant. However, on her first night here the people in the next room were entertaining loudly and kept her awake until five in the morning> At breakfast there had been a man smoking a gigantic cigar right next to her.
Today Terri is again full of helpful suggestions, wondering why we weren’t being more pro-active and pointing out that Larry Gagosian would have millions of people working the floor if he were here. It is nice to see Jane and Terri having some mother-daughter time together; a few hours of quality bickering is always refreshing at events like these.
Julia’s family finally departs for the long commute home. Terri tries to help her mother see a better way of doing things (and fails). In between speaking to clients, I try to figure out a way of getting some pictures of the crazy shoes women here are wearing. We are talking heels as high as nine inches, I am certain.
“Fashion has become decorative arts and comedy,” Jane declares. “It used to be pure torture.”
I think the pendulum is swinging back again. But how can I take pictures of women’s feet without getting slugged (or worse)? Julia again to the rescue. Some girls from the one of the jewelry booths downstairs wander through and Julia somehow manages to find the words (in Russian) that will make a shoe pose inoffensive. These heels aren’t nearly as high as many, but you get the idea (they insisted that I take another shot to show how well the legs went with the shoes). The shoes at the end, of course, are Julia’s.Finally it is eleven o’clock, pretty late to go looking for a new ethnic restaurant. We return to our old standby, Planet Sushi, which is open 24 hours. It is the perfect place and even Terri is pleased, though she has to send back the yellowtail (it is suspiciously yellow and smells fishy). “Are you sick?”Terri asks Jane, who tries to place a piece of caterpillar roll on her daughter’s plate. Julia and I share an identical cough (though Julia insists that this has been coming on her for a long time). Typhoid Charlie strikes again!
It’s half past midnight by the time we’re ready to leave, and we have to play hide and seek to find Marat. He was waiting outside the Manege. When we came looking for him, he was at Planet Sushi looking for us.
“Armenia, Armenia,” he says happily when we finally rendezvous. Jane has begun to call him “our magic carpet.”