OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — I went to Creative Growth. I came to see what they were up to, to make sure the retarded kids were all right. They thought I came because I’d read the New York Times article. I came because it’s been six months since I’d last checked in.
I found out that Judith Scott’s artist portrait is fake. Orchestrated cretinism. What a crime, Leon A. Borensztein, art photographer, liar, to pose a woman nuzzling her three-foot fiber sculpture not-knowing, yarn in her face. Her curator caught me staring at the portrait of Judith’s Down’s blown up, magnified and primed. They had a second photo there as well. In this one Judith’s terrified, wild-eyed. Clutching an eighty-pound heart-shaped dental floss buoy for life.
“Startling, isn’t it?” she said, hoping. Should I have raised a palsied palm? Shaking smacked her across the face?
Judith Scott is Creative Growth’s latest creation. Judith doesn’t know to be a genius. She doesn’t want to show in Paris or New York or Japan. Hasn’t been to the Ricca/Maresco gallery. No one bought her a ticket. Judith must stay on Medicaid. She doesn’t have an artist outfit or a nuzzly fern lamb invitation to the opening of The Pretty Show. Who put her in the Collection de l’Art Brut in Switzerland? Judith is not that.
In Oakland, I found out that Judith is no outsider artist. She wants in. Who should be surprised? She loves to wrap her fingers in Band-Aids like you and me. Her family split, left her, deaf-mute, in an institution until her twin flew her home. High out in the sky Judith rode an airplane that she didn’t know existed to a homecoming sixty years too late. Now Judith lives by her sister. She is still deaf and mute, but her twin has decided it is time, that she has recovered from the flight and America can bear the cute and deformed Doublemint gum girls finally sharing the same street.
At the Creative Growth workshop, Judith sat mournfully at a table for months. Art therapists kept putting oily crayons, pastels, hook rugs and mealy paint suggestively in front of her. She turned her head. This was not her idea.
One day she fiddled with yarn, no one knows why — boredom, exhaustion, inspiration, revenge? She started swathing things, babies maybe. She stole woodcutting tools and mummified them in yarn and bits of string, left them smothered and strangled, umbilical cords sticking out. The art therapists took away her good stuff, gave her a disemboweled fan, said swathe that instead.
Watch your wallet if you go by. Turns out Judith has quite a reach. She goes on shopping expeditions — takes car keys, her tablemates’ glasses and headbands, and hoards them in a bag under her chair. From between her legs she grabs and webs them like a Charlotte, breech bears gargantuan knotscapes.
“Aha,” someone said at some point. “She has found her medium.”
Enter photographers and genius-makers, all Leon A. Borenszteins, the usual art creeps. Articles in Primitive Art Today. A book. A profoundly obvious question is asked and answered in one stinking breath. Journalists are calling her the “Berkeley Dreamweaver” and mentioning her “indomitable spirit.” Deaf and not that dumb, Judith does not refute. No words to spit back.
Judith’s yarn wads sell for thousands now. (Everyone always asks: She gets the money in trust, fifty of fifty percent, plus all the string she can strung.) White men with their fists in their front pockets want to peer at her from a distance. See her dribble her Juicy-Juice. I saw two today.
I didn’t come to stare. (Did I come to stare?) Judith was having her lunch. Her Curator insisted I see what I didn’t come to see.
“How can I tell her I like her?” I said. “I don’t sign. She doesn’t want to meet me.”
“Clap your hands together like this and she’ll clap back,” her Curator said.
Judith was away from her worktable. Evaporated without a trace. Her Curator sent up the alarm. Warning warning, le exhibit has left the stage.
Someone grabbed my elbow. A retarded man took me by his bony hand.
“Judy?” he said.
“Yes. I’m looking for Judy,” I said.
“No,” he said, finger pointed. “You Judy.”
Judy may be off stealing purses. Rocket grenades to launch her yarn baublescapes.
Quick, call someone. She is a deaf-mute. Remember of Mice and Men? Don’t give her a puppy if she asks for one. This is an inconvenient savant moment. People demand to know who taught Judy to fight, let her know legs run, saw her secret her lunch out of public sight? Give them an inch they take a mile, escape.