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by Dimitri Vorvolakos


It was in the winter of 1995 or '96. I was 28, 29. All I wanted to do was get high, fuck and make art.

I was a fucking artist for God’s sake. I was in the midst of a volatile relationship where my beautiful, insane and paranoid partner Tim got sick and tired of me, after three years, of me living my life rent free. He insisted that I get a job.

I had no real-world work experience. All I’ve ever done was bartend, coat check, sold a little bit of stuff here and there, but for the most part I was always someone’s boyfriend. I was always taken care of. Until things got weird, uncomfortable and they start bringing up the job thing. THEN I’D SPLIT.

But— I loved this one so and I wanted it to work. I decided to get the damn job.

It couldn’t be just any job. It had to be something that paid well and had to be within my wheelhouse. One of my stoner artist friends suggested I work with him at this art gallery. They paid $20 an hour and all I had to do was move and hang art. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant. How hard could it be?

On a sunny winter’s day in LA, I went to the address that was scribbled on a bar napkin. It was a huge, stately, Art Deco building, formerly a high-end department store, with great big old doors. I walked into the marble lobby and asked someone coming out of the Art Deco elevator, if they knew where ACE Gallery was. A small old man, who was the elevator operator, gave me directions. He was the last working elevator operator in Los Angeles. He said I should take the stairs.

I walked up to the second-floor lobby and found myself in a huge pristine cavernous gallery, a temple where any artist would have sacrificed dearly to show. The hallowed air smelled of clean, pure, fresh paint.

I walked over to a pretty, but snobbish-looking receptionist and told her that I was there to apply for the job of art installer. I was handed an application, on which I lied through my teeth. I had no prior experience. It worked!!!

I was hired on the spot. I was shown to a tool closet and given an apron. I was given a few assignments. I painted a wall. I was made to climb a dangerous ladder to adjust some light. Etc. Etc. I spent most of the time wandering through all the many rooms in awe of the art works and of the space itself. It is easy to get lost at the ACE Gallery. Art writers call it "cavernous" and "cathedral-like."

Once home, I told my partner what happened. He was so excited that I had a job, he took me out to celebrate. We went to my favorite restaurant, in Venice, the Cheese and Olive.

The next day at work, a tall, bald and imposing figure in a severe business suit took charge. He had the aura of an asshole, spitting out orders. He gathered myself and a crew of five handlers in the entrance to the gallery and told us that today, we will be moving art from a storage unit somewhere in the gallery into two large, U-Haul moving vans that were parked outside.

We proceeded to move these huge art works, down the stairs in the back of the gallery, outside, into the trucks, packing them tight. Massive Sam Francis paintings nearly filled a whole van.

All the while, the tall, bald man stood on the stairs, watching us intently.

After the trucks were full of art, very neatly and tightly stacked, he told us to re-park the moving vans, rear to rear, so that their backs were touching each other. Absolutely theft-proof.

This all seemed kind of weird and mysterious, but I guess that’s how things were done in the art world.

Doug let the trucks sit in the parking lot for about a week. Until someone came along and drove them away.

The next week, the tall, bald man introduced himself as "Doug." He seemed soft-spoken and reserved. You could see that he was a bit of an asshole. Uncomfortable at having to acknowledge me, but he needed something.

He began talking to me about a show that I was to install along with another art installer, whose name I forgot. It was a show by painter Roger Herman. These were large scale paintings of buildings. The paintings were gray and painted with muted colors. I thought they were kind of shitty and boring, but I did like the scale, they were huge and imposing.

Roger Herman came to the gallery and showed me where each painting should go and showed me where the installers had put the screws. He proceeded to leave and left me in charge.

Photo Courtesy of Roger Herman

I went to get the ladder and apron. I was waiting for the other installer. But then, he never showed. I was on my own, with no idea what to do. “I could figure it out. How hard could it be?”

I was in the process of moving them from one room to the other. Slowly, carrying each of the huge paintings into place. This was definitely a two-person job. I noticed that the paintings were wet when I took off the plastic. Some of the paint stuck to the coverings. No big deal, I fixed the little smudge with my finger.

After I moved each to their place, I measured with a tape and a level to make sure they were at a good distance. I began to drill holes in the wall. Some drywall dust got on the paintings. (I guess I should have waited to take off the plastic.) I blended the dust into the paint so no one would notice. After drilling the holes, I put screw anchors into the wall and then attached the wood slats onto the wall anchors, making sure they were level and ready to hang a painting on.

I am a tall guy; I have a wide wingspan. I could barely hold on. I held the edges of the paintings to prop them against the wall. The edges were wet, slippery and they smelled of beautiful oil paint. As I tried to lift one of these huge paintings and put it on the wood slats it was to hang on, the painting almost slipped out of my hands. The painting was so huge, heavy and thick with paint that when I tried to get it on the wall, it began to slip, from all the wet paint on the edges. The art work fell onto me, resting against my head and chest.

I managed to shove the painting with my head so that it leaned against the wall, and I pushed it into place, then I leaned it back a little, pushed up and then pushed the canvas onto the wood slat with my slippery, oil paint-covered hands and managed to get it onto the slat. Then I pushed up the other side of the canvas with my other hand. While I tried to get it on evenly, it almost slipped off the slat, so I used my forehead to maintain some pressure to keep it on and away from my body. Once I got it in place, I pushed it with my hand and my head to make sure it stayed put.

I stood back to analyze the damage. There was just a bit of noticeable destruction. Which was surprising, considering my acrobatics. I blended in my head and hand marks with my finger and Voila!

The painting had many layers of oil paint. It didn’t seem like there was much damage. And there was no mess on the walls. After the fiasco of hanging that one painting, I thought that I should find someone and explain the situation.

In my innocence, I was thinking there must be something wrong. Maybe I was hanging the wrong paintings? Maybe the dry paintings were in another room? Worried, I cleaned myself up, the best I could. I went looking for someone to answer my questions. I heard voices and I ran into Doug Chrismas, who was in one of the nearby galleries discussing a piece with a well-dressed businessman.

Photo of Doug Chrismas by Joey Krebs

I felt somewhat stupid, with my face, hands and clothes covered in paint. I found the matter to be of the utmost importance, because I was sure I was hanging the wrong work, and I didn’t want to be the fool.

I was shifting on both feet, waiting for a lull or a break in the conversation, but I couldn’t find one. I believed the matter to be of such urgency that I interrupted Doug in the middle of his sales pitch.

He turned and looked at me with much disdain and he hissed, "What do you want?"

I told him that the paintings I was hanging in the next room, were wet.

With undisguised hate, he hissed, "No, they’re not! Just finish hanging the show."

I replied. “Yes, they are. Look, I'm covered in paint." I held my arms out.

Livid, he grabbed my elbow and walked me out of the gallery and out of the client's earshot. He hissed even louder, completely irritated, "No. They are not wet!"

“Yes, they are!”

Leaning forward, he was trying to keep his tone down but failed. “THEY ARE NOT!” He said I should leave, and leave immediately. "Just get out!"

To my mind, I thought he meant leave the room. He didn't say I was fired.



I left the room and continued hanging the paintings in the same haphazardly way that I had hung the first. The paintings were all wet. I got the hang of it after the third one.

I finished hanging the rest, stepped back and looked at my handy work. I thought they looked great. I got the ladder and adjusted the lights. Although there were some marks on the canvases, it was hard to notice, because Herman's work allows for some fudging. If something was just too smudged, I would correct it with my finger. At the end of the shift, I felt proud of myself. I had hung that show alone and with minimal paint stains on the walls.

I left for the weekend.



Monday morning, I arrived to work as usual, as this was my second week. I went into the closet and got my tools and began to finish the Roger Herman installation. I covered up the fingerprints and smudges on the wall. This took a while. It was worse than I thought. It required a couple of layers of primer and then some white paint. Thank God no one walked in to see the mess I had made. At around 12:30, I was done.

I heard Doug shouting angrily and loudly. I went to investigate. He was leaning over and yelling at the gallery assistant. He was very upset by an unnamed smell. And I could smell it too; it was McDonalds. The sophisticated incense of fresh, white paint of the holy gallery was obliterated by the stank of McDonald's fries. The gallery smelled like a city bus.

Livid and outraged, Doug was demanding answers and action. "Don't you realize Leo Castelli will be here in ten minutes?" he thundered. The smell was ubiquitous. It seemed the gallery had absorbed and amplified the rancid aroma.

Doug didn’t see me. I stepped back. I wasn’t going to get in the middle of that. He hustled the assistant down a large hallway.

I checked my watch, cleaned up and put away my tools. Lunchtime.

In the gallery lobby stood an odd pairing. A beautiful young woman was towering over a short dapper gentleman in his very late eighties, uneasy on unsteady feet. Her elegant attire was imposing. She had a sour, bored look on her face. The elder statesman was impeccably dressed in a tailored Italian suit and a pearl grey tie; everything about him was wrinkled. This had to be Leo Castelli, the great art dealer. He radiated good art, but he didn't look happy. His nose was wrinkled up at the smell. Clearly, he wasn't all there. He looked at me with a confused look on his wizened face. He asked, "Doug?"

I laughed and shook my head, No.

Then Doug entered and greeted his old friend warmly. He looked at me surprised, then glared, before turning his attention to Castelli. I turned to go to lunch.

Then a friendly "Hey!" was floated into the air.

I knew that voice and turned. My boyfriend Tim was walking down the main hallway. He had a big, beautiful grin on his face and he was holding two big bags from McDonalds. Combo Meals. "Surprise! I brought you lunch! To celebrate the job!" He was beaming.

He had been so proud of my employment. He knew how much I despised the concept and its dark toll on my creativity. He saw this job as a supreme gesture of love. It meant the world to him. Wanting to surprise me, he was wandering through the ACE rooms and galleries looking for me. In the process, he spread the stench of those burgers and fries through every corner of ACE Gallery.

I knew we had to exit fast. Doug looked over and registered the McDonalds bags. The bane of his existence now had a face. He exploded, screaming, "Get that crap out of here! What are you thinking?"

Tim is one of those short, tough guys. He doesn't retreat. I stepped in front of him as Doug was moving in.

Doug yelled at me, "And what are you doing here? I thought I fired you last week! You're fired!

That's why I love Tim. He yelled back at Doug, "You can't talk to him like that! Fuck you!"

"You're fired!"

Tim was stabbing the air with his pointed finger. "We're not leavin' until Dimitri gets his check!"

"Come back and get it at the end of the day."

"We're not leavin'! We're not leaving without his full pay and a two-week firing bonus!"

Doug stormed off, pulling Castelli and his companion with him.

Tim and I looked at each other, silently speaking volumes. He was dizzy, proud at defending me. His heart was swelling. I was forgiven. I would not have to get another job.

A few minutes later, the assistant came with the check. I didn't know her well. She was impassive and maybe a little embarrassed when she asked that we never set foot in the ACE Gallery again.

Naturally, I wasn't going to miss out on my handiwork. Of course, the next day we attended the opening of Roger Herman's new show.



gallerist, curator and educator.





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Photo of Doug Chrismas by Joey Krebbs
Photo Illustrations courtesy of Art Report Today .com


Gordy Grundy

Gordy Grundy

Gordy Grundy