The Collector’s Salon is a series of private events for museum patrons. Artists whose work is on exhibit usually give a public lecture at the museum, then a more exclusive one in another location for those who donate $5000 or more. Tonight’s guest of honor is Seattle-based artist Chris Jordan, whose Infinite Balance series consists of photographs of the decayed bodies of baby albatrosses in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Among the grays and browns of beaks, feathers, and follicles left behind, the birds’ decomposed stomachs reveal the colorful plastics of the lighters, bottle caps, and pens they ingested, then were unable to regurgitate during their short lives.
You wonder if Jordan’s subject matter is the reason for the reusable bamboo plates and utensils at the buffet table.
Though you are not an important museum patron, you were able to obtain an invitation from a woman you’re supposed to meet here. She has not yet arrived. While you wait, you become attached to two other guests who have also likely not paid the $5000 donation: the artist’s wife, poet Victoria Jordan, and his Los Angeles–based gallerist, Paul Kopeikin.
“I feel like I’m in a catalogue,” Victoria says.
The three of you wander into a room where a huge black-and-white leather sectional sits atop a tribal-print rug. The ceiling is at least 15 feet high. On the wall across from a fireplace tiled with hammered Jerusalem stone, a series of 200 eight-inch squares hang in a 10-x-20-foot grid. One hundred eighty of the squares are white. Twenty are bright green. A ladder stands to the left of the grid, and across the top, there’s a track for sliding the ladder along the wall. On the wall, to the right of the grid, a small digital frame changes every few seconds to display earlier incarnations of this piece of art, each with the green and white squares in a different order.
Kopeikin shakes his head and says something about the “huge difference between art and decoration.” He wears a suit and sneakers. Somehow, this puts you at ease. Victoria laughs a lot. This puts you at ease, too.
Suzan Shaanan leads a group of guests up a staircase. The three of you follow just in time to see her point to a group of paintings hung in the stairwell (which Kopeikin has already dubbed “art-fair art”) and hear her say of the artist, “We love this guy. He’s also a personal friend.”
Shaanan wears her hair long and highlighted, in the style of many young women. She’s dressed in snug black jeans and a loose-fitting brown top. Her frame is small, fit, and well proportioned. From many angles, she could be anywhere from 25 to 50, though the look of her hands probably puts her closer to 60.
She continues the tour up the stairs, into a cozy media nook. She tells stories about herself and her husband through each piece of art on the walls, including a framed quilt that she says is from the late 1700s (at which point Kopeikin rolls his eyes, causing both you and Victoria to choke on stifled laughter).
You finally meet your sponsor, Gail Bryan, in front of the buffet table, where, in the minutes before the talk is to begin, you’re piling your reusable plate with cheeses, bread, and mini-carrots. (The disruptive nature of carrot-chewing during an intimate living-room talk doesn’t occur to you yet, but it will.) Bryan, one of the Museum of Photographic Arts’ distinguished trustees, is also the founder of the Collector’s Salon events. The epitome of statuesque, minimalist cool, she is dressed in all black, save for the gold of her jewelry. You have to look up when talking to her.
The point of these events, Bryan once told the Union-Tribune, is to bring donors “closer to the art.” And close, they are. The talk takes place in the room with the tribal rug and the squares on the wall. The 28 or so guests don’t all fit on the leather sectional. Some perch on the stairs, others on the few chairs that have been brought in from another room. Chris Jordan, the photographer, sits in front of the fireplace next to Deborah Klochko, the museum’s executive director, whose questions will help direct his talk.
While you listen to the tale of Jordan’s transition from corporate attorney to full-time photographer and how he came to photograph dead baby birds, Stacy sneaks around, snapping photos of the gathering. Paul Kopeikin sits beside you. Victoria sits on the other side of him, gazing lovingly at her husband.
An audience member asks a question: “Can capitalism and sustainability co-exist?”
Several 16-x-20-inch prints of the decomposed birds are passed around. Klochko mentions that portfolios with 13 prints each (“No two with the same set”) are available for purchase at $12,500 each. Later, by email, Kopeikin will inform you that none of the portfolios sold, “though I would have been surprised [if they had], given the crowd.”
Presently, Jordan addresses the group with a few words about the importance of sticking with an artist, even when he’s “not bringing something that will hang above this fireplace.”
The caterers quietly clean up empty wine glasses and cheese-smeared bamboo plates from the floor and side tables around the room.
Sherman Heights: “Everyone from judges to McDonald’s counter-people.”
Although you’ve had plans to meet up with Senior for weeks, he sends you a text on the morning of the dance. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” it reads. “How do I know you’re not working undercover or something?”
After some convincing, he concedes that you are probably not a cop. Then he warns that if you say the wrong thing, he might not be able to protect you. Though this makes you nervous, you agree to meet him and his motorcycle club in the Rite Aid parking lot at the corner of Federal Boulevard and 54th Street. You tell him you will be bringing your friend, Marie.
“Kickstands up at 9:15,” his final text says.