This week’s story from James Patrick Kelly connects art, memory and experience in entirely new and unexpected ways. In keeping with that ideal, you’ll find a link to the art that inspired the story at the end! ~ Julian and Fran, March 12, 2023
By James Patrick Kelly
It was always about the adventure with Maren. She was a connoisseur of exotic experiences. We did Mexican mushrooms together in San José del Pacífico, soared in gliders over the Alps near Chambéry, and crashed the Met Gala the year that Cate Blanchett was one of the chairs. I talked her out of some of her wilder expeditions, in part because it would take me away from my projects at the URI materials lab for too long, but I agreed to accompany her that day to Giulietta Quagliolo’s estate sale in Newport.
From a distance the mansion was impressive but at the doorstep its decay was obvious. For every stone rampart with brick crenellations, there was a grimy Palladian window with peeling woodwork. I wondered why I’d taken the day off for this.
“Remind me who this Baroness Quagliolo was,” I asked, “and why we want anything of hers?”
“She claimed to be one of the Illuminati.” Maren’s lips quirked in amusement at my impatience. “Trust me, Natacha. What do you know about steampunk?”
I couldn’t always keep up with Maren’s popcult fascinations, but I was up to speed on this one at least. “Retro-sci-fi fashion, ripped off from Queen Victoria.” I held the front door, and in we went. “Handmade follies like copper goggles and leather corsets and top hats. But I thought it was over ten years ago.”
“Goggles, yeah.” She signed in at the desk in the grand entrance hall and was given a bidding number. “There’s supposedly a set built by the Fab Lab.”
I understood then that this was more than browsing for curios. The team at the Fab Lab had taken maker culture into some dark corners before imploding in mutual recrimination. Its members had scattered and disappeared, taking their conflicting theories with them but leaving behind a handful of inscrutable artifacts. We’d been searching for a Fab Lab cache when we did that covert dig at White Sands. . . .
* * *
And that was the last time I ever saw . . .
* * *
I hadn’t expected that there would be so much bidding action for the goggles that Maren wanted; there were already six offers. After she doubled the most recent one, we set off to browse the wares in the overcrowded art gallery. Not only were paintings hung three high on the walls but there was art on the furniture and even on the floor, leaning against the wainscotting. She breezed past a Malevich and a Lethem and a Kline knockoff to stop at a sideboard on which was propped a lithograph of a Derain still life sandwiched between two abstracts.
“What do you think of this one?” She pointed to the one on the right.
The background of the painting consisted of shapes with well-defined borders in green and blue. Some were curved, some angular, all were overlaid on one another. Several of the curved shapes had a Möbius strip geometry.