The Collector # 10

Su Friedrich / Fred Tomaselli

Su Friedrich, “The One That Got Away”  (2020) watercolor on paper, aspirin, 20” x 27”

This is about something I didn’t collect, hence the title.* But another thing that got away is my memory, since this account is based on an event about 25 years ago and I haven’t seen the painting since then.

Cathy and I own a fair number of wonderful paintings, mostly through her doing trades with other painters. I’ve also acquired a few photographs and paintings over the years, but my first attempt at collecting has haunted me ever since.

In the 1990’s, we lived in Williamsburg, along with a lot of other painter/filmmaker/writer friends. Everything was cheap, and we lived mainly from paycheck to paycheck. Friends were doing wonderful artwork and offering it for sale at for rock bottom prices because some of them hadn’t hit the high price bracket yet (though we all fervently believed that everyone would, since we admired what everyone was doing.)

Among my friends were Kurt Hoffman, Amy Sillman and Fred Tomaselli. One day in Amy’s apartment, which she shared with Kurt, we were talking about Fred’s work—perhaps he’d just had a show somewhere?**—and she talked about wanting to buy one of his. Or perhaps she had already, and that inspired me to think of doing the same.
This was when he was starting to embed drugs into the paintings; I thought they were hilarious and beautiful at the same time, and I’d seen one that I loved like crazy.
I asked Fred how much he wanted for it; I have a memory of him hesitating (how did one price one’s work when one just hoped that someone—anyone—would buy it at all?) and then he said it was $750.

I balked. That was a lot of money and I’d never been “a patron of the arts” before. I struggled to imagine affording it, and then regretfully told him I couldn’t do it. My rent at the time was probably about $500 or $600 and I earned just enough to cover basic living expenses, and everything else I made I put towards the cost of buying and processing 16mm film.

Some time later, I cursed that decision and called him up.
It was gone, sold.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought of that painting. And with Fred’s ascendancy in the art world/market, I’ve regretted not owning something that might be worth considerably more than $750. I also wonder how I would feel about selling it to help me out in my retirement years. I might be sorely tempted, but I think I would still love it too much to be willing to part with it.

—Su Friedrich

*Because we are currently passing through the Hibernation Era, Fred couldn’t get to his studio, dig out the 35mm slide and have it digitized, so I made a watercolor of it from memory. His piece was embedded with Prozac. I didn’t have any on hand (though it would certainly come in handy these days!) so my copy features Bayer aspirin.

** Fred emailed me saying, “Here’s what I think. The group show was in 1992 and might have been “Ecstasy” at Dooley La Cappellaine Gallery. She was on Lafayette. Could have also been at Sandra Gehring Gallery in the same year.”

If you’re curious about how intense and beautiful the original it was, which isn’t conveyed in my bowdlerized version, here’s another piece from that same time.

Fred Tomaselli, “Yellow Moon” (1994)

“The Collector” is an ongoing series in which I ask people to talk about a painting or a drawing they own. See other installments here.

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