A Docent’s Guide to the Collection

by Russ Smith
Babilu
Second Place, July 2016
Judged by Lee Nash


You wonder if it’s worth
a summer afternoon indoors,
instead of golf or tennis…

He had sufficient wherewithal,
and bought this old stuff — art and
furniture and tapestry and sculpture,
genuine perhaps, more likely
nineteenth century counterfeit —
with help from wily agents and

persistent needling from a second wife,
who found conspicuous wealth
to be as trendy in America,
whether east or west, as in
the France of Louis Fifteen
and Madame de Pompadour.

Chairs embroidered rich with animals
from Fontaine’s fables — (one does not
impose one’s bum on images of people) —
fox and sour grapes to comfort
guests who’d not yet reached
the dollared stature of their hosts;

hangings made for Bourbon patrons,
using natural pigments that have faded,
sadly, from the ravages of light,
and populated landscapes which
have also suffered ruinous histories
but still contrive the gloss of gold;

Gainsborough portraits
of other people’s ancestors
scenes with no familial import
whether Barbizon or Ashcan,
having one aspect in common —
high price, if no apparent value;

rooms and sculpture gardens full
of allegories by unknown Italians,
Remington westerns, Epstein portraits,
Dianas with their bows and quivers,
stone dogs by a distant relative,
a Brillo Box by Warhol —

in the end, a necessary visit,
now that he is merely dead.
His pigeonhole is public once again.


A lively, tounge-in-cheek piece that takes us on a tour of the treasure trove of one collector's extravagant yet undiscerning taste, and ends with a clever turn of phrase as we leave the exhibition. An original choice for a title and from start to finish, artfully done. --Lee Nash

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