Sunday, March 11, 2012

Egg McGuffin

Note from Rebus: When you see art you like a lot, if you have the money to buy it, take the leap. Especially, if the piece was created by a friend. Later, you'll be glad you did. 

Meanwhile, the illustration is a detail from a sign Rea made for a staff art show at the Biograph in 1974. To celebrate the theater's second anniversary several of the staff members, then-current and former, put pieces in the show. One of the three pieces Rea had on display was stolen right off the wall during operating hours. The mystery of that strange violation was never solved.


Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery area of the Biograph Theater's lobby displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists that was not always the case. In the first three years, or so, when the gallery regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, occasionally art by renown artists from out of town was on display.

Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and sculptor George Segal.

In the summer of 1978 we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, a VCU-trained artist, who later played in a popular band that got some MTV exposure -- Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a flat field of a single color; the colors varied. The renderings were done in the sparse style one might have seen in a '50s government pamphlet's illustrations. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something.

Maybe Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them.

Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me on the telephone to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonald's fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonald's was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonald's signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonald's wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!”

Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonald's side.

Well, I called a lawyer friend to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up to see what how it would play out.

Never heard from the wannabe McDonald's lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.

Phil Trumbo, who lived on Grace Street a block west of the Biograph had multiple shows at the Biograph. When he needed some dough to pay the rent, sometimes he'd put a show together and up it would go. Each time the prices got more friendly.

So for 50 bucks, or less, I could have bought that infamous painting Phil did that looked like a huge cell from Mickey Mouse cartoon, in which Mickey's little gloved hands had been chopped off with an ax. A dialogue balloon indicating the speaker was out of view said something like: "Finally got rid of those damn gloves."

At the time I wasn't smart enough to buy it. Still, by now, with all the scrambling I've done to keep a roof over my head, I probably would have sold it to pay my own rent ... which leaves me wondering where that painting is now.

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