“Gallerists! Curators! Where are you?? I’m here!! I’m ready!!” With an extreme sense of hysteria, faith in God, and nothing to lose, I ran up and down the hallway of my graduate building yelling those words. It was this past April when I had my final MFA Open Studio event and I was hoping to get discovered and transformed into an overnight successful gallery artist with a spot in next year’s second New Museum triennial for emerging artists in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Now, eight months later, out of school and unemployed, I’m hypnotized into a trance as I sand some wood in a parking lot of a warehouse, for a sculpture that will be exhibited in my first ever solo show, opening in exactly 16 days. The over-confident trickster grad kid has left the building and all that remains is a scared, confused, and lost dude trying to make sense of his reality and praying that what he’s creating is something remotely close to Art.
I grab another piece of wood and try really hard to be present in this moment. I need to sand this wood and prime it before the sun goes down and the temperature drops and dew starts to collect on the surface of these sculptures. My former grad classmate is assisting me on this project and I can’t help but be thankful that I met him at school and I quietly wonder what his aspirations are and what he hopes to do after he graduates in May. Is he like me–does he think about the whole gallery thing? Are there are a lot of teenagers out there that hope to show work in a gallery one day? Is that a contemporary daydream? We all know that there are children hoping to one day win American Idol or America’s Next Top Model, but what about Work of Art: The Next Great Artist? Who are these people that end up representing different countries at the Venice Biennale? I mean, someone has to fill those artsy roles, why can’t it be me?
“Jeffrey,” I tell myself, “please, focus on the wood!” I inspect the wood for any imperfections that I could sand away. For my show, I need to create a new body of work that has never been seen before. In grad school, presenting new work every five weeks for a critique was a piece of cake, so much so that during my Intermediate Review, my mentor professor asked me to consider why my production was so manic. To this day, I don’t know if I ever stopped long enough to really contemplate the answer. I’m trying to, right now, during this monotonous process of smoothing out a piece of kiln-dried redwood, but I can’t stop my catastrophic thoughts: will I finish on time, will people like it, will anyone review it, what do I do after the show, should I move to New York, does my future husband live there?
As the temperature quickly drops below 50, I move the sculptures inside the warehouse and I wonder where my grad kid confidence went. It just disappeared! It just, poof, went away. I used to bang out work and walk into critiques with an obvious excitement to show new work, and now, I just want to install my work in the gallery and run far away until my dealer gives me the thumbs up that it’s okay, or the thumbs down that I wasted his time. In the end, this is what I wanted and this is why I went to grad school, and now I have to deal with the reality I signed up for. Geez, I wish I had just gone to grad school to find myself! Just kidding.