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Guyon: Sliced Bread

08/25/11 5:55PM By Annie Guyon
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Commentator's Brunch Sampler

(HOST) All this week we're sampling recorded excerpts from the latest VPR Commentator Brunch. This year, the theme was "Picture This" so naturally, commentator Annie Guyon's remarks were all about an incident in an art gallery.

(GUYON) I'm Annie Guyon and my piece is titled, " A Toast to Conceptualism."

There are those moments in life which, even as they're happening, you know will stand out in your memory - either as a gleaming triumph or a complete disaster. Some though, are an odd mix of both.

I was a freshly minted Art History graduate who'd landed a primo job as registrar at a top contemporary art gallery. It was my first day and I spent the morning exploring the gallery's eclectic collection of conceptual art work.

Being a wide-eyed newbie, the price tags were as jolting to me as the art itself: a coconut-sized ball of cement: 5 thousand dollars, a cluster of rugs bolted to the wall: 7 grand, a dilapidated hutch filled with rolls of toilet paper: 10 Gs, and a plywood shelf hung at eye-level, supporting several loaves-worth of sliced, enriched, precisely ½"-thick square, white bread, toasted: fifteen-thousand dollars.

Like thin, identical paperbacks in a bookstore, the toast stood in perfect formation with nary a crumb out of place. And I stood marveling at it.

"Well, what do you think of that?" a loud voice suddenly demanded. It was the gallery's rather legendary owner, standing with her arms folded, head tilted back and a look of supreme satisfaction, as if I was gazing upon a never-before-seen Pollack.

"Uh, it's really, um...interesting," I replied.

"Interesting!! HAH!" said the demi-god. "We're verrrry lucky to be representing her - the museum just bought a piece of hers you know."

"Wow, I didn't know that...that's great," I said.

"In any case, I just sold this one and the collector needs it shipped out today."

"Oh," I said.

"Well, take it down! Pack it up and get it out!" commanded my new boss.

Thankfully, just then the gallery director came rushing up and rescued me.

A half hour later, I found myself alone in the basement in a sea of packing supplies. I wrapped up the shelf, put it in the crate and then stared at the toast. I had no idea how I was supposed to pack it. Individually? By the loaf?

I decided to bubble-wrap each slice separately, and after finishing a few, gently nestled them into the crate. But when I picked up the next slice, my nervous hand it snapped in half. Panicking, I started looking for glue while doing the math in my head, trying to assess the value of each slice. "If the shelf costs, say, $1,000, that means the toast is (14 grand divided by 60 )...over two hundred bucks a slice!"

My first day on the job and I'd already broken an expensive piece of art. I decided to do what plenty of new college grads do when they have really crummy first days at their spiffy new careers: I called my mother.

So picture this: A terrified art geek with big, asymmetrical hair, orange lips, and a bright chartreuse suit with massive shoulder pads - it was the 80s - sitting in the cluttered storage room of a major art gallery, delicately holding a broken piece of toasted Wonderbread in one hand and sobbing to her mom through the phone in the other. It wasn't pretty.

Luckily, when I finally fessed up to the director, he quickly assured me the artist could bring more toast right over, which she did - no charge. But to this day, the sight of perfectly square, perfectly toasted white bread still makes me wince.

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