Portraits of Insane Women

By David Gaffney

Location: Manchester Art Gallery

Art galleries are perfect for picking up women, a fact surprising to Warren whose entire working life had been in art galleries, and he’d had no idea. He’d met his wife Georgina in a gallery – that’s where they had both worked – but the notion of chatting up a strange woman in a gallery struck him as disrespectful.

The fact that men and women used Warren’s carefully curated spaces to feed explosive, untiring sex lives appalled him. His efforts to excite and delight the public, to waken the soul with the tender strokes of art, had been wasted. Years of registering, ticketing, cataloguing, placing, interpreting, caring, protecting meant nothing. The public didn’t want his art. They wanted secret nooks for fleshy encounters. Soft chairs, heavy curtains, peepholes – tissues even. His art gallery was a pick-up joint and Warren, a pimp.

But Georgina had run away. With a wedding photographer. And although he’d tried the bachelor life for a few weeks, without her, without Georgina, without a woman, his life was dingy and meaningless. He had decided to do something about it. Georgina’s last email spurred him to action. Your vacuous chimp-scrawl makes my eyes vomit, she had pounded out in fat capitals, You can mop the jam from between Satan’s toes for all I care.

Where had she learned this language? It can’t have come from Vernon, the quiet wedding photographer, who specialised in novelty poses for his couples (his New Avengers, Pulp Fiction, and Bonnie and Clyde set-ups were all very popular). Warren had no bad feelings towards Vernon. He’d never met him, but he’d walked past the man’s studio a few times and once glimpsed him arranging a family portrait and using a puppet to make the children laugh.

Warren wanted to stop doing furtive, obsessive things like watching Vernon using puppets to make children laugh. Warren wanted forward movement, and a new woman would give him this. And if Warren couldn’t pick up a woman in a gallery then who could? Manchester Art Gallery’s revival of the Art Treasures of the UK exhibition from 1857 seemed an appropriate popularist choice; many single, available women would be wandering unsupervised. All he needed was the nerve and the blood.

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