Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bad Seed

Bad Seed (2005)
The Chadwicks’ ill-fated exhibition in Philadelphia, “Bad Seed,” (2005) documented the family’s ongoing archaeological work on Hieronymus Chadwick Bartram in relation to his better-known relative, the eighteenth-century American botanist John Bartram. Presented on the grounds of Bartram’s Garden (in conjunction with the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia), the Chadwicks’ sunken vitrine of specimens and texts—which was later destroyed!—reconstructed the bizarre history of H. C. Bartram’s attempt in effect to graft himself onto the Bartram family’s lucrative seed business by courting Elizabeth Bartram (William's twin sister, born in 1739) around 1824, when she was in her mid 80s and he was in his late teens. Because of Elizabeth's senility Hieronymus’s argument that the two were married may in fact have been true. In any case it was the basis of his adopting the Bartram last name and entering the family seed business—to disastrous results, including fraud, conflagration, drunkenness, breaking and entering and taxonomic incompetence.

Concerns about the project prompted the curators to require that the vitrine be placed at the far, swampy corner of the Bartram’s Garden grounds, just across a broken fence from an abandoned gypsum factory.

Neighborhood children roared through this area, tearing up the ground on their four-wheel off road motorcycles; yellow police tap lingered from a recent murder.

Worse than the siting, however, the curators also requested that we make public the family papers on which our research had been based. Because the Chadwicks sternly refused, on principle, to comply with such a request, Blachly and I were forced to compose a brief text, “Detached Sentences on the Chadwicks,” out of the family’s historic press clippings, personal correspondence and memorabilia. Though it was designed to put to rest the curators’ questions, unfortunately neither they nor the Chadwicks were quite satisfied. And yet I hope that a disinterested reader may nonetheless benefit from these sentences.

Arrayed comfortably each evening on their various verandas, the sun in fact never sets on the Chadwick family.

Though amateurs, the Chadwicks are utterly professional.

Perhaps because of their easy upper crust manners and ready wit, the Chadwicks have lived for several centuries (their detractors say) on the luster of their long-vanished fortunes.

In view of your family’s broad historic contributions to culture, and with a knowledge of the good intentions underlying your misrepresentations, we will let this go with a warning.

Several of the songs and all of the photographs on the Japanese pop band Pizzicato Five's record, Made in USA, are rumored to have been inspired by the Chadwicks.

In view of your enormous debts, repeated public drunkenness and, above all, your reckless disregard for the facts of others’ private histories, I shall have to suggest that, as a learning experience the likes of which will last you a lifetime, you join the intimate pastoral community at Sing-Sing for a period not less than 12 months.

One or the other of the Chadwicks has often been seen fast asleep over a cheap novel in the den of the Algonquin club.

The Chadwicks have ceased reading the daily paper's reports on the Chadwicks.

In the aftermath of their ferocious spats, the Chadwicks have often been heard to raise a glass with the toast, "consensus is overrated."

While other New York connoisseurs have loudly bemoaned the loss of Asher Durand’s beloved Kindred Spirits to the Wal-Mart family, the Chadwicks have quietly begun following the painting.

Some scholars have taken exception to a few of the Chadwicks' most astonishing documents.

The Chadwicks do not care to answer questions about their holdings in print.

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