No problem whatsoever, thought the Library. He can still be an artist. In the generalizing light of the coming Apocalypse, his paintings will be but shadows anyhow. It was the past that the Library sought to preserve.Standish Rehl did very well not working. Without the weight of his failed paintings upon him, he turned again to the city and the world. He purchased things and arranged them, fixing up his apartment, avoiding the basement altogether. He took long walks. Through Chinatown, along Canal Street, down to the old ships on the waterfront and up the sparkling band of East River park. He enjoyed the walks, enjoyed the city’s grit and real ways. When he walked he knew where he was.One afternoon late in July he passed, as he often did, a table of books. He usually avoided St Mark’s Place, but, lost in anxious thought concerning a letter he had received from the Sheriff’s Office calling him ‘delinquent’, he had turned North on 2nd Avenue and turned West on St Mark’s.Passing by one of the outdoor cafés that crowded the block to afford tourists a better view of delinquents, Standish found his eyes straying to a person seated in a small group at a sidewalk table in a more exclusive venue diagonally across 2nd Avenue. The Observer? It stopped him in his tracks. It was the very same sculptor, this Thom Jack, who’d told him about the vacant studio. Thom Jack was, in fact, looking his way just at that moment avoiding his interlocutor’s eye. Standish immediately turned to St. Mark’s and pretended to be examining books at the nearest table.The business of hawking second-hand books was flourishing on the streets of New York at this time. The Library had agents all around. Many of the tables stretching along the little street concentrated refugees of the paperback revolution, the apex of enlightenment’s parabola, now under sustained counter-revolutionary assault by the corporate towers of the East ‘50s, and offered them at low prices. Darwin competed with von Däniken, and von Däniken with Colette. The sellers were often quite desperate and uninformed. A first-edition Dashiell Hammett might still go for twenty-five cents, while an 11th printing mid-career Steven King would take in ten dollars as a hardback.Since the booksellers’ tables today were concentrated at the corner on which Standish Rehl now stood, his eyes bounced off Thom Jack’s gaze over a thick field of little doors of potential escape, settling down to rest on a black hardbound book laying face up on the table to his left. It still retained its paper cover. A photograph on it showed a familiar black and white man seated upon a chair. Standish didn’t look away. Handing the sad hippy seven fifty, receiving a first-edition 1975 Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, edited by Barbara Rose, in a little brown paper bag, he turned to a table of comics. He picked up the first he saw, imagining the wandering eye of Thom Jack still upon him.Black and black and before the black a blue. In as much as the blue could exist in hindsight without the black. It could not. Nor could the earlier colour studies, hodge-podge representations, or any of the other pieces of the Artist Abstract. The black was all. Only in black was the Artist ‘free of all passion, ill-will and delusion.’ Or so said the book. Nowhere in the book did Standish find himself surprised. Now directly confronting the static paradox of his new existence in thought, Standish showed himself naturally resilient. He himself was the Artist Abstract. An Artist, perhaps the first, who actually did no art. He took pleasure in the impossibility of his function. The Observer suggested he change his name to Strandish. After reading the book, there had come an ultimate quality to his new lack of action, as if he’d approached some sort of Gödelian ideal. Standish walked no longer fearing the slippery slopes of expression and self-reflection. He really became, as it were, not an artist at all. Of course, not acting was not without its own slippery, though quite opaque, surface. Standish lost control. He stopped working jobs, and lost weight at what The Observer felt was an ‘alarming rate.’ Meanwhile, every day called for a certain amount of celebration, for like a dandy this Artist Abstract now existed in a world always announcing the opening of his greatest exhibition. As the Library had foreseen, he turned to heroin. He enjoyed using drugs. He would stand for long periods in front of his full-length mirror and reflect on the shadows yawning hollow around his eyes, celebrating nothing as deeply as it was possible to celebrate it. The rest was easy. The heroin led to drink and to theft. It led him to a bar where two other addicts were, as we’ve seen, discussing the situation of the Library at the Museum of Modern Art. The Library was at that very moment showing a little exhibition of ephemera. The Artist Abstract thanked the elevator operator as he exited on the 6th floor. He turned left after exiting the elevator on the 6th floor as instructed, and walked down the windowless carpeted hallway. He didn’t look into the open offices he passed, but proceeded directly to the closed double-doors at the hallway’s end. Museum Library, they said, opening together inwards. He was surprised by the brown and yellow room. Standish Rehl had never been to a proper research library. He saw few visible books, understanding at once that the Library was simply a small office with a reading room attached. The Collection itself would be invisible.The L-shaped exterior room, which he had just entered, contained a small exhibition in cabinets, a card catalogue, and a librarian’s desk. There was a door to the reading room and windows looking in. Through them Standish observed several long dark tables, at which patrons (inexplicably there were two already here) worked in quiet, evident sophistication. Farther windows looked out on the dead space of six-storey Manhattan. Standish approached the desk in the exterior L-shaped room. The librarian regarded him plainly, taking note of his pink badge. ‘Have you used the Library before?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. Standish turned to look at the little exhibition. As the woman in the bar had noted, it concerned Reinhardt. Two glass cases were fixed onto the walls, and one glass-cased table displayed the private collection of a college friend. He looked at old letters, photographs, various early socio-realistic and Cubist graphic designs, and cartoon pages from The Jester, the Columbia University newspaper in which Reinhardt first published his drawings. He turned back to the librarian… The old oft-fingered manila folder lay open on the long beige table. Faintly penciled on its worn tab were the words: Reinhardt, Adolf. Standish Rehl sat before it, unmoving, eyes closed. The Library observed with some tension. While browsing, the young man’s expression had at first been straight. When it had come to the card, the particular object with whose provenance the Library was in this case directly concerned, his thin lips had turned downwards. He read it carefully. The card announced an exhibition of Reinhardt’s work five years after his death, at a high-powered gallery on 57th Street. It was a blown-up reproduction of an actual postcard that Reinhardt had sent the dealer in 1967. At this time the dealer had apparently no desire to show Reinhardt’s works at all, and the postcard’s offer of an exhibition of the black paintings was rhetorical. It was evident to Standish, feeling he had recently acquired a rather sophisticated sense of Reinhardt’s history, that the card, though not hostile outright, was nevertheless thick with the author’s characteristic strident irony. The card gave him a peculiar feeling. Was it the dealer’s evident bid to glamorize himself by publicizing the fact that the artist had revealed his own weakness to him in this way years ago? Or the fact that the artist had made the original request, no matter how ironically? Questions of the sort that did not ordinarily disturb the Artist Abstract had clearly been raised. When our friend opened his eyes again, he found that his fingers had turned the card over so that its back was now visible. This side showed a magnification of the original card’s reverse side. In the centre, the Dealer’s name was hand-scripted above the gallery’s street number and zip code. In the top right hand corner, a Lincoln-head stamp looked across a BROOKLYN 1967 postmark to survey the sender’s name. There in the top left, Reinhardt had written
NOT ME, AD
Standish slipped the card casually inside his overcoat and closed the folder. The Library was ecstatic. But the Observer might have noted that if our friend looked like a young man who had successfully accomplished a precarious mission, he certainly betrayed little joy on the accomplishing of it. He placed the Reinhardt folder on a library truck and exited the reading room. The librarian was no longer at the desk. Standish exited through the double doors, unobserved. But outside he didn’t proceed to the elevator. He stopped in the Men’s Room. He entered the single toilet stall. The Library watched in something like disbelief as Standish removed the card from his overcoat and without looking at it, placed it temporarily atop the toilet-paper dispenser. He locked the door, opened his overcoat again and got down to business. Finished, he turned to reach for the bathroom tissue so as to wipe away a droplet of blood. It happened that the open DIXIE/MARATHON dispenser, fixed to the wall by steel screws, was empty. It was exactly the sort of thing the Library had feared when he’d entered the stall. The left half of the dispenser was covered by a little steel door. On it were written the words, When this side is empty/Slide door to the left until locked. The Observer pointed out to Standish that the words were oddly phrased, since ‘this side’ was in this case the other side, and the door was already in front of it. Nevertheless, the door slid quite easily to the right, revealing in the dispenser’s left compartment the fresh roll of toilet paper that had until that moment been concealed behind it. Standish Rehl wiped away the blood, flushed it, and exited. In all the commotion, he’d forgotten about the announcement card. Blown by the wind of his movements, it dropped quietly to the tiled floor. For the library, then, all was lost.