PETER HILL'S MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY IDEAS

Peter Hill

The Albury Wodonga Superfiction 1993

Collaboration Peter Hill and J.J. Voss (Photographer)

T H E   A R T  F A I R   M U R D E R S

A Novel   An Installation

CHAPTER FIVE MAY CHICAGO

Even in a novel like The Great Gatsby, the character Gatsby ultimately is not the most important character. Nick Carraway is the one who is finally moved...changed...made to see a different vision of the world, and so decides to go back to the Midwest at the end of the story.Nick is the narrator, the viewpoint character, and finally the story is his, and the meaning derived from his sensibilities, whatever the novel may be titled.

Jack M. Bickham. The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

It was Labor Day in Chicago and all over the city families were pitching grills for the 1989 Ribfest. As Chandler Hanley, art fair director and Englishman abroad walked from his hotel to the Navy Piers he could smell the mixed aroma of hickory, beer, and scorched beef everywhere. He whistled a private medley from The Pirates of Penzance, smiling at the anonymous faces in the oncoming crowds. Each street brought different sights and sounds except for that smell of hickory which remained constant, and except for the newspaper hoardings, which he eventually noticed. They all announced the same thing -

Don Camillo Stabbed in Shower

The closer he got to the piers the more his mood changed. His walk became agitated. He stopped whistling. Another art fair, another murder, he thought. Why me? And why after such a night as last night?

No one in Chicago could recall a night quite like it. Not even in the days of Al Capone and Elliot Ness had the city been so alive, so on edge with excitement. In excess of 50 million dollars had been spent on a private party in advance of the official art fair opening. USA Today had dubbed it 'The Floating Brothel'. Rock musicians had flown in from the Carribean, actors from London, soap stars from Australia and half of Hollywood were making their first visit to Chicago because...well, mostly because they didn't want to be seen not to be there. Even two deadly rivals in cross-media ownership, billionaires many times over, risked meeting face to face in order that those same faces would grace the celebrity pages of their own gossip magazines, chat shows, and satellite newscasts. The world's biggest party, as it was later headlined, was bankrolled by one man, Hugh Abercrombie Cameron. Heir to half the Cameron Oil empire he loved Chicago over New York and Los Angeles with the same passion that he favoured Scotland over England. All of his wealth had been inherited and at heart he was a wild man rather than a businessman. If he had a vision then it was a vision for fun, endless possibility, and more than a nod in the direction of danger. The media loved his round-the-world ballooning escapades, his floating rock stadiums and his frequent courtroom appearances as he divorced yet another wife, beat a drug rap or copped another speeding fine. Yet the more money he spent, the more he seemed to accrue. He was, if truth be known, a very clever fellow.

Every year he would plan one 'spectacular' as he called them and in May 1989 he chose his home city of Chicago - home despite his Gordonstoun and St Andrews education - for the world's biggest party.

One hundred bag-pipers had been flown in from Ross and Cromerty. A troop of whirling devishes were air-lifted from Turkey to Illinois courtesy of the US airforce. Ten of the best chefs in Paris took a sabbatical for the week and earned more in that time than they would in the rest of the year. Europe's three best tenors joined forces with a mega-group of rock stars and the biggest laser light show ever assembled. And when they got to Chicago the limousines and helicopters that met them at O'Hare airport didn't take them to any of the excellent downtown hotels but to Hugh Abercromby Cameron's latest fantasy come true, the whole reason for this bizarre gathering - a floating 'village', more the size of a small city, anchored by a thousand steel cables to the basin of lake Michigan just half a mile from the famous Navy Piers. In a city known for its architectural triumphs rather than its disasters this was really something to celebrate - a civic icon as individual as The Sydney Opera House and as tastelessly glitzy as a Las Vegas casino. The architectural journals and style magazines had been running cover pictures of it for months. And there was a casino inside this moored pleasure palace along with accommodation for over one thousand guests. There were restaurants, banks, two semi-circular shopping malls and a fleet of hover-cats to ferry day trippers across the lake and into the floating wonderland. The world's biggest party had been arranged to mark the opening night of this floating temple to the material world. And somewhere down the track the night's excesses would all be written off against tax.

All the pleasures of the flesh were catered for. Two tons of rice boiled in champagne accompanied the finest Indonesian ricetaffels. Oysters Kilpatrick floated in their shells in pools of vodka; a thousand lobster were boiled alive in the huge underwater kitchens, while on the upper deck beneath the cold stars of the Milky Way with the full moon rising, two oxen were roasted on spits and divided amongst the fur-clad super-models and their leather jacketed partners. For desert, star fruits in sea urchin custard were served in moulded popadoms. The caffe latte was made from the milk of water-buffalo and the finest Equadorian beans. From the top deck, the view of Chicago was magnificent. name architecture Chandler Hanley, art fair organiser extraordinaire, whose life was spent jet-setting from one big party to another, let out a small gasp of amazement at what was going on around him. His art fair (as he liked to refer to it) opening tomorrow night would seem subdued compared to this. "Fucking magic my man" someone shouted at him above the noise of the rap music, and Chandler recognised the features of a well-known Scottish comedian."You should go up to Soi Cowboy and cheer yersel' up..."

"I'm sorry?"

"Soi Cowboy - that's what our fine host, old Gatsby as they're calling him, has called the party on the upper deck. It's fur those and such as those who're in the inner circle. Flown in a whole fucking bar from the red light district in Bangkok. Even got a wee set-up with Thai Boxers in a ring and a huge video screen of bungee-jumpers doin' their routine at the bridge over the River Kwai. Couldnae fucking believe it pal. And you should see what thae wee lassies are doin' wi' razor blades and ping pong balls. Ah havnae played table tennis for years but ahm away tae get mysel a bat. Never had a night like it since ah wis stranded in Orkney over Christmas and spent Hogmanay in Stromness. We partied till the 8th of fucking January so we did. Cannie chat here all day though. I'm off for some more o' thae voddie oysters. Away and have some fun yersel' man." And he disappeared into the darkness.

It was time to go back to his hotel, Chandler thought, looking up first to the full moon and then down at his watch. He'd been hoping for a word in the ear of Hugh Cameron, but apart from a glimpse of him chatting with the President of CBS in a small group that included the Mayor of Chicago and his nervous looking police chief he hadn't had a chance to get near him. So he ended up sharing a hover-cat back to the Navy Piers with a couple of sober supermodels complaining about all the ugly old people they'd been forced to mix with. They were going back to their hotel to have an early night with a glass of warm milk and watch the video of Neighbours they'd brought with them from London. He allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction that everything within the twin piers was ready for tomorrow - no last minute panic, nothing major delayed at customs, everything ready for the gala opening. Despite tonight's jamboree it was still going to be a memorable art fair.

The next morning, strolling along Chicago's State Street and after the shock of seeing the newspaper headlines announcing the death of the legendary New York dealer, he remembered that one of the last people he'd seen before taking his leave from the floating village had been Don Camillo. That's right, he'd been talking with a group of young artists who worked as a team - very fashionable in the late eighties. They were going to be giving a forum at the fair. They were from Leningrad and called themselves The Art Tsars. They - male and female - all wore black business suits, carried briefcases had expensive haircuts and sported the same trademark black-rimmed glasses. Their English was perfect and their accents could only be described as sexy. He would be meeting them later in the day and made a mental note to ask them about Camillo and who else had been with him. His fingers and toes felt numb at the enormity of the crime that had been committed. This was the art world's equivalent of the Kennedy assassination as he would later, frequently, repeat. But much messier.

An areial view of Art Fair Chicago '89 would show a maze of hundreds of white booths each about half the size of a tennis court sitting atop acres of industrial carpet in the shade known as riding green. During the week that concerns us these booths contained paintings, sculptures, and photographs, and each gallery dealer had tried to customise his territory with white rugs, drinks cabinets, or classic designer chairs. Smoked glass tables support copies of Flash Art and Art at Auction. Next week these same booths would accommodate computer hard-ware and the week after that was scheduled for automobiles. Most bookings are made at least five years in advance. Near identical scenes to this are created every week in dozens of trading cities around the world. This year's special display is on art from the Soviet Union. The VIP charity will benefit AIDS research. The guest country is Holland, so the art fair will give ten booths rent free to commercial galleries nominated by the Dutch Ministry of Culture. Mostly young, cutting edge, galleries.

Art fairs have been getting a lot of negative press recently on account of all the bad deaths that have been going down. Five months, five deaths. Milco Zeeman, a young conceptual artist from the Netherlands and a favourite with the afore-mentioned DMC was making his first visit to Chicago. He climbed into a cab at the airport just after midnight while the world's biggest party was in full swing. He hadn't even heard about it so he didn't know what he was missing. Milco was in the sort of jet-lagged state that was becoming a normal monthly feeling for him. This time the cab caller serviced him at O'Hare International Airport. Two months ago it had been London Heathrow, the month before that Tullamarine, Melbourne. Next month, Basel - by train thank God, get some decent food and a look at the countryside along the Rhine Valley. His life seemed to have become segmented into art fairs,long haul flights, and stomach complaints. For over four decades the Dutch art scene had been awash with money thanks to the generosity of the Dutch Ministry of Culture. It was in part more than thanks for the heroic actions of Dutch artists within the resistance movement during the Second World War. Milco had been given one of five Abel Tasman awards which paid for his travel and accommodation to each of the world's major art fairs for one year. Five motns in to it and he wasn't sure whether he could take the pace. One of the main reasons he had been a recipient was because it fitted well with his current project which involved travel and documentation of "travel as art work". The native American cab caller had a great jive routine and a score of politically incorrect one-liners about international airlines and their customers. A dented Pontiac zipped into place as Milco reached the top of his line. American dollar bills are a real headache for jet-lagged travellers. "Thank you my man," the cab caller cried, pirouetting Milco's suitcase into the boot and pocketing a hundred dollar bill which Milco wouldn't realise till later wasn't a five.

"Will you please take me to the Best Western, the one that is downtown" Milco instructed the driver, turning on the record function of his Walkman. Taping the bizarre soliloquies of taxi drivers was part of a long-term conceptual art project he was working on. While the cab driver talked, Milco would jot down road signs, shop names, glimpsed observations of city life. Later, he would transcribe everything on the tape and inter-cut it with his hastily recorded notes. Later still it would be transferred to a gallery wall somewhere in the world. He would employ a sign-writer to carry out the actual work.

"Hey, you ever bin to Chicago b'fore?" the rant began after it had been established where Milco was from and why he was in Chicago. He'd already started jotting in his notebook - Caucasian cab driver...black glasses....dandruff over collar...no smoking signs... exit ramp... bad smell of stale cigarettes...full moon...yellow cabs everywhere...I've never felt so tired before...

"You not goin' t'the party tonight? You a visitror and you not bin invited? Shame. This your first time Chicago? Let me tell you about it." Driver sounded Polish. Said his name was Bob Paderewski. "Tell ya, it's my kinda town. Goodanuff for Fast Eddie and Al Capone, good enough for me. Then there was Bugsy Malone, yaheardahim in Holland?"......lifting onto the freeway, narrowly missing a stationwagon full of Hispanics and battered suitcases...."One time we had a Mayor called Daley. He's dead now. Richard J. Daley. Boy, could he kick ass. But I tell ya, if you can't make it in Chicago where can you make it, huh? Look at me". Overtaking fast on the inside, turning to Milco to make eye contact.

"We got newspapers in every language you can think of, and some you never heard of. We invented the blues for chriss'ake. You gotta go down to the stockyards while you're here. Youhearda them? Down Canaryville and Bridgeport. That's where old Mayor Daley came from. They're turning whole place into parks 'n' restaurants now 'n' sending the Rapid Transit down there. Loop-de-loop. Place to go. See the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. Visit Chinatown.

Then Milco saw it in the distance. Glimpsed through the jet-lag and the lowering hangover. Only lights at first, outlining the great structures underneath. The skyscrapers that could look down on New York. The lower teeth in the mouth of a wide-open city. Shit, this was a crazy driver, Milco thought. Trying to race another cab. No, both trying to edge closest to a Japanese girl in an open-topped sports job. She accelerates and disappers into the darkness.

In the pauses between the rave Milco caught the familiar gravel- bucket tones of Van Morrison from the dashboard radio... ."like a ball-er-ina, just like a ball-er-eeena..."

"My father was Lithuanian, did I tell you that? My mother grew up in Warsaw. I never been to Europe. But I married four times. A Swede, a Korean, and two Canadians, but not at the same time, you understan'? OK so don't laugh, no fuckin' sense o' humour the Dutch, or am I right?" Milco let it wash over him, pretended he was lying on a beach in Bali and the waves were crashing in. 'My father's father came here after the first world war. Lived on Marquette Road, down near California Avenue. We moved out to Lemont. S'ware I grew up. We always went to the nativity on Sunday. Our Lady of Siluva. Never f'get the day the fucker started to bleed. Sorry man, no offence if you've got the faith. I'm going to shut up now. I been driving all day, talkin' too much. Won't be long till we get you to the best one in town."

But Milco was asleep, his head lolled onto the shoulder of his new Italian suit. Down in the darkness of his hand the little red eye of his Sony burned and the tape continued to turn.

Every art fair is a maze and at its heart, whatever the product, is the media office and next to it that of the director. Every week the feast moves on and a new director with different skills and specialties either comes or goes. None of these booths have roofs, not even that of the director's office, so our aerial view would also show us the sweet-as-tea Englishman Chandler Hancock sitting tense behind his desk while Chicago's most ambitiously flawed police detective "Alabama" Jackson criss-crosses the green carpet trying to get his head around an alien art world and a more than usually viscous murder.

- You're telling me that there have been four other murders this year at different art fairs around the world?

- Yes, I'm afraid so. One a month from January through to April. And here we are in May and it's happened again. Christ knows what's happening. To make it worse they've either all been at art fairs which I've run or rival fairs which I've gone to observe.

- So you're the prime suspect bud?

Chandler went white.

- Only kidding bud, you need a sense of humour in this job. I'd bet my pension you'd faint before you drew blood. So tell me why isn't all this front page news? Why ain't I heard of it?

- I think you'll find it will be once the papers get to hear of this latest one. You see, on every occasion the murderer has left a postcard at the scene of the crime. A postcard of an artwork that in some way relates to the method of death used by the killer. In Miami, the victim was electrocuted in the toilets of the art fair by a hand drier that had been tampered with in a fairly amateur way. Apparently a postcard of an Andy Warhol electric chair was left beside the corpse. But this murder is different. Now I'm no snob, please don't get me wrong I voted labour last time, but this is the first real art world personality that has been killed in these events. Up until today it could all have been coincidence, horrible coincidence but just possible. Well, alright, maybe not. There were always postcards left after all. I've been living on my nerves all week, you know, frightened that this would happen. The first one was just a designer employed by one of the New York art magazines, tragic though that was. The second was a young New York gallery assistant at the Melbourne fair.Then there was a magazine editor in Frankfurt and an art transporter in London.

- Excuse me... an art transporter?

- A young man employed by a specialist haulage company to on and off-load artworks. Usually driving them to and from international airports, occasionally even accompanying them on flights. He was crushed under a huge crate of artworks. Mostly paintings, a few sculptures.

- But Chicago's hit the big time again. That's what you're saying? That's what you're telling me? The guy we found knifed in the shower is something special?

- This guy, as you call him, this guy Don Camillo is one of the top five dealers in New York. He gave half the abstract expressionists their first exhibition. He all but invented Pop Art in the sixties and he is still making discoveries in the nineties. Or rather was. I had to give him a free stand just to get him to come to Chicago. A stand that would cost others $50,000 to hire for the week. Securing him helps me attract the others who will pay top whack. Strictly entre-nous.

- OK, so he's a high roller. I never heard of him, I'm a schmuck detective. I want to assign you to my case. Now on, you're my personal assistant.

- But I've got an art fair to run. It only opened last night, it's my busiest week of the year. There's the forum guests to...

- Listen bud, I ask you a question. You wanna go back to being prime suspect? You the only guy on the planet been at the scene of all five crimes. Am I right? I ask you another question. You seen the cells downtown? Maybe you've not heard of the overcrowding we've been suffering lately. Tribs been full of horror stories for weeks now. Young kids in with paedophiles. Junkies in with drug informers. Tearing themselves apart. Ears and fingers everywhere not to mention...

- Yes, I get the picture, perhaps I could rearrange my schedule, said Chandler, turning an even whiter shade of pale.

- 'course you could.

- But I still don't see how I can help?

- You're my translator bud. I don't speak the language of art, like I don't speak Japanese. I want you to translate. So tell me again, the first one was in Miami? What about the second?

- That was Melbourne, in February. But both police departments still regarded them as local crimes for weeks after the events. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Melbourne police had no idea what had happened in Miami. The real fear didn't set in to the art community until April, in Frankfurt. Gunshot to the chest. Goya's Fourth of May.

- You lost me pal. What happened?

- An Italian magazine editor was shot in the red light district. The German press picked up on it in a small way but it was soon buried under weightier news. Collapse of communism, Prague Spring happening all over again.

- What about March, ya missed march, anything happen then?

I'm sorry, that was the third death, in London. The English tabloids started mentioning the idea of a serial killer. The quality dailies urged caution, spoke of Frankfurt and Chicago being the litmus test. See what happens at the next couple of fairs. Frankfurt more or less proved it. Now, here we are in Chicago and it's happened again... Each murder sems to be getting more bizarre, God knows what will happen in Los Angeles in December... that one's another of mine. So is Hong Kong...

Chandler was close to tears and a long way from his home in Essex. He was a gentle soul who enjoyed parties, liked arranging things, and was used to being surrounded by happy and excited people. For this he was paid handsomely. He had worked his way up, over twenty years, from being an educational display organiser for Wandsworth libraries through seven years at the Design Centre in the Haymarket to his present position as art fair coordinator for the International Events organisation that sold space on five continents for car shows, book fairs, computer sales conventions and, in Arthur's case, six international art fairs per year. He liked travelling. He liked a quiet life even better. At stressful moments he missed his cat and could be caught stroking his own chest distractedly.

- OK, so Chicago does it in style again and tomorrow newspapers around the world are gonna give us headlines like we ain't seen since the last time Big Al celebrated Valentine's Day. That's what you're telling me, and stop stroking your fucking chest, it's annoying as hell. Anyway, you and I in my humble judgement have got about twelve hours before our first TV interview. I wanna make sure we're talking about the same thing. I want you to stick to me like shit sticks to a stick. Wherever I go, you go. Which means tonight you'll meet my family.

- Charmed, I'm sure.

- Now, you haven't seen the corpse and I'm not going to show you it. You'd go in to shock and I don't need that. Stabbed in his shower, yeah, just like Psycho......and this postcard was found leaning against his shaving mirror. You recognise it?

- I do, yes, Sheridon replied shakily. I've seen it at the fair. Row F booth 119. He was a neat and orderly man and had a photographic memory of where every gallery in his care was positioned and how much each was paying per square foot. It's a Scottish gallery, called Northern Lights. Actually, they show a mixture of Scottish and Australian art. I believe the director's married to an Australian.

- So who's the artist?

- I couldn't tell you. I just saw it last night at the opening. They'd brought a bag-piper and a didgeridoo player along - totally out of order, awful noise - and I'd got so many complaints from neighbouring stands that I had to go and ask them to stop. They'd attracted crowds of people and I think that's really why the other galleries were objecting. Stealing their trade. But I noticed the artwork in that postcard, that was definitely where I saw it.

- Take me there.

...

- So where's your fucking evidence? the tall Scottish gallery director shouted, trying to stop the small Chicago detective from removing the blood-stained shower curtain from the wall. Show me your fucking evidence! he demanded , purple with rage, in the deep , civilised tones of a certain Scottish public school.

- This is my evidence bud. It's going with me to the station. He was having trouble reaching the silver rod to unhook it from the wall. Also, there's a dead New York art dealer in a shower in one of our city's best hotels, that's also my evidence. Thirty-second floor, the Terkel Suite with views of the lake like you'd die for. Only he did. And the final bit of evidence is all these postcards you've got scattered around here of this, if I may be frank with you, perverse artwork. One of these postcards was propped against his shaving mirror. If I find you've been anywhere near art fairs in Miami, Melbourne, London, or Madrid I'm taking you in. By this stage Alabama was up on the points of his toes trying to nudge the rod of the shower curtain over the hooks.

- Desist! Desist I tell you! That is a valuable artwork. I will sue, damn you. I am a British citizen, what's more a Scot. The Ambassador was here last night, we were at Gordonstoun together, I shall telephone his office right away.

- Okay, Okay, let's sit down and rationalize this one. He motioned towards the gallery dealer's desk and the half dozen grey upholstered aluminium chairs that a large bribe to the teamsters had helped materialise yesterday. The three men sat down. There was a moment of quiet while the detective tightened his tie, the gallery dealer loosened his tie and Sheridon Hanley, still corpse white played nervously with the half-moon spectacles hanging by a chain from his neck. With his other hand , rhythmically he began to stroke his chest.

- Let's start again, the detective suggested. Who made this artwork? I need to talk to him.

- Aye let's settle down a wee bit. They're one of my Australian artists. Rather, they're a group from Brisbane in Queensland who work together as a team. They call themselves Aloha. But really there's just one person behind it. He calls it a Superfiction.

- The fuck's a superfiction? the detective asked getting angrier and more confused by the minute. Does this group Aloha exist or not, that's what I want to know?

 

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