Wet Dreams Sunk at Auction; The 200-Pound Supermodel

John Alexander is a 52-year-old painter with a respectable career that includes regular shows at the upscale Marlborough Gallery on West 57th Street and exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world. He says that the last two years have been the best of his career, financially, and his expressionistic paintings of phantasmagorical scenes now routinely sell for $40,000. Even at auction, his paintings have fetched as much as $19,550, the price a collector paid last November at Sotheby’s for Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World , which had been consigned by Sylvester Stallone. So when he learned that Sotheby’s had taken in a painting of his for a sale on March 11 and predicted that it would bring only between $5,000 and $7,000, he feared for his own future marketability.

“I hit the roof,” Mr. Alexander said over the phone from his loft in SoHo.

“They are destroying my market,” Mr. Alexander maintained. “My work has been showing at auction since the 80’s. It is new that they are low-balling my pictures like this. If the painting that sold last November was worth $21,700, then that’s what this painting is worth. They are not dealing with a lamp. They are dealing with human beings who are trying to make a living and support their families.” Alas, The Wet Dreams of Baby Moses was sold on March 11 for $8,625. But not before Mr. Alexander attempted to get the painting removed from the sale.

“I could have sold it to someone myself for $20,000,” he said. “I don’t know what Sotheby’s is up to. They’ll say it is only worth $8,635, but that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you say something’s only worth $5,000 to $7,000, then of course no one’s going to pay more than that for it.”

Wendy Cromwell, a contemporary art specialist at Sotheby’s, had this to say about Mr. Alexander’s claim: “We didn’t deem this to be an easy subject matter to sell. The actual composition itself was less appealing than other Alexanders.” Ms. Cromwell pointed out that “it is a picture that had been up for sale once before, and the estimate was lowered because of that. When it doesn’t sell the first time around, we lower the estimate. It’s a subjective thing, and when you’ve seen a lot of his pictures and you know what they have sold for, you know which are more popular than others.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Alexander feels that the estimate was insulting. He contacted Sotheby’s shortly after he learned of the consignment. “I thought that it must be a misprint in the catalogue. The person I talked to said she thought that there was something the matter, too. And that she’d get back to me. She never called back.” He then contacted the Stremmel Gallery in Reno, Calif., the place where he had last known The Wet Dreams of Baby Moses to be located. “They told me that they had sold the painting to a South African. It was he who consigned it to Sotheby’s. There are museums that would have taken the painting, and the guy could have gotten a big tax deduction. I could have set them up. These people are like some cheap merchants that handle women’s lingerie. They are dealing with art and people’s lives. They created this market, and now they are destroying it.”

A Career in Many Courses

The centerfold ad for Winston cigarettes in the March 5 issue of Time Out New York read: “On the Web she’s blonde hair, blue eyes, 36-24-36.” The punch line: She’s 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs more than 200 pounds and looks like Divine’s evil twin.

She is Aviva Stone, a former dancer and plus-size model who has become the most popular nude model at the drawing classes at a Spring Street studio. In a neighborhood where most diets consist of fruit juice and caffeine, she’s being worshipped despite her large proportions. She’s even being used to pitch nicotine, another trendy staple.

Paul Lucchesi, a sculptor who has turned Aviva into a Venus in shells for a bronze water fountain, has admired her intently. “She has majesty. She’s like a Baroque putto. She’s strong but so feminine. Sculpturally, her forms are great.”

“Fantasy is a big part of it,” Aviva explained, “One of the ways that I work is that in my mind’s eye, I think of myself as much thinner-like an insect that carries much more of its own weight. I suspend reality and I turn it around. There is always a narrative, a persona. A live young thing, a sylphlike creature, an alpha wolf, a sleek panther. Juliet’s first glance at Romeo. Sometimes I feel like the Princess Maryami, the first wife of Herod. He was so obsessed with her that he had her and her family killed. A young Martha Graham. Elizabeth I. Sometimes I feel like a survivor of the Irish potato famine. A Holocaust survivor. I think of myself as the new Venus of Willendorf, a figure that came out of Europe as a fertility goddess.”

Unfortunately for Ms. Stone, the Winston ad was a total surprise. The picture of her in a wide-brim hat and bright red lipstick, her cleavage heaving, originated from a modeling shoot four years ago when Ms. Stone and three other plus-size models frolicked in the surf on Fire Island for photographer Todd Haiman. Mr. Haiman sold the picture to an ad agency, which recently contacted Ms. Stone after the ad had been put together to send her a check. She wasn’t sure what to make of the ad copy.

“I thought, Oh my God … Then I said, Oh, so what. Let’s have some fun, people. I am not offended because what she is doing is, she’s laughing. She’s in control of this. It is not like she’s some forlorn figure. Who amongst us hasn’t played games on the telephone, blind-date games? I used to say that I was born somewhere near Shanghai. But I am really from Newark, N.J.”

When Ms. Stone started modeling in the 1970’s, she was a “much thinner” dancer who needed extra cash. A few years ago, someone talked her into doing it for the SoHo drawing group. “I had put on weight. I said, ‘Oh, God, do it now? No!'” But the response has been overwhelming.

“They just loved my butt. What can I tell you? They just went crazy. It is a pretty solid butt. You’ll see that I mean. They said this is great, this is fun, this is fabulous. They were totally happy, and that was the beginning. Suddenly, the girth was welcomed. I mean, you are in a society where everyone is telling you, Take it off.

“Now my friends are telling me, You have a career. Get to the heavy cream.”

Wet Dreams Sunk at Auction; The 200-Pound Supermodel