That Time Brian J. Bid On A Picasso

As you might remember, gentle reader, I don’t care much for modern art, including the work of Picasso (see What Makes a Picasso a Picasso? and forget that I once sponsored a theatre company after seeing Picasso at Lapin Agile). But one time, I bid on a piece of original art from Picasso, mostly to say I have a Picasso if I won it at age 23.

When I was a boy, I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum a bunch. My grandmother managed the gift shop, so she got us past the velvet rope for free, which is about the price a family from the projects can afford. So every year or two, we went down to the lakefront and walk around the exhibits for a couple of hours. To be honest, we enjoyed some of the more modern, what, sculpture installations? One thing on the wall had holes in it, and if you held your hand over holes/sensors in it, it would make different sounds. Another exhibit had a room with lights and mirrors in it on all walls, the ceiling, and the floor. You could put special slipcovers on your feet and go into it, and it would look like you were floating in an infinity of lights or stars in every direction. I guess they have Rodin’s The Kiss–of which we have a small casting to this day.

When I returned to Milwaukee for college, I went down to the art museum a couple of times a year. I was always, always amazed at the other students at the university just up the road who claimed they wanted to get out of Milwaukee because it lacked culture even though they’d never been to the art museum within walking distance of the campus or the multiple theatre company performing arts complex within walking distance of the campus. So I took a couple of people there for their first time.

After I graduated, I came back to Milwaukee about once a month, driving an old Nissan Pulsar. Okay, only eight years old at the time, but, c’mon, man, how many Nissan Pulsars did you ever see? In 1994, they were dead and buried but for this one which only sometimes left me stranded on the side of the road on the way to or from Milwaukee. But sometimes I got to Milwaukee with time to kill because my hosts were working, so I would go to the art museum.

One such time, the art museum was holding a silent auction of small pieces of art and ephemera as a fundraiser. I looked at the auctions posted on various walls with the bid sheets, and I didn’t see anything I liked for its own sake–or at least anything I could afford. But I found an original Picasso drawing, smaller than a sheet of notebook paper and in pencil, some little scribbling, to bid on. I wrote my name and phone number and $150 (I think) on it, my heart pounding in my chest and my throat a bit dry. In those days, my bid was, what, almost two weeks’ take home pay in a time where my student loans were coming due? If I won, I would have a Picasso, man, but I’m not sure how I’d fuel my car to get me to work for a couple of weeks, much less to pay my student loans atop that for a couple of months. My Picasso might land me in prison for nonpayment.

Well, gentle reader, I was spared that conflict. Someone must have outbid me by the time I was back in this soft Southern land, or perhaps my shaky, nervous writing was illegible. I never got that hundred dollar Picasso also-ran.

In the years since, I have adorned my home in $10 Renoir prints from garage sales, $100 prints from my artistic aunt in Wisconsin (who’s taking care of my grandmother these days), and I’ve bought various original art pieces of a couple hundred dollars for my beautiful wife.

But I wrote a note to myself to mention to my grandmother in my next letter to tell her this story; I’m not sure where I’d graft it into the epic of our summer shenanigans at Nogglestead. But I thought it worth mentioning here, amongst the blatantly Rule 5y posts.

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