Friday, April 10, 2009

What If?

Hardly a moment to spare for a blog entry, what with the welter of public attention surrounding the release of the new paperback edition of HUBERT’S FREAKS. My agent says Latterman and Leano are in a cat fight over who gets me. But my heart belongs to Opera. Hope you catch me on her show next Wednesday morning… Everybody’s really excited about that one! Jonathan Fransen (who happened to attend my alma mater) told me that rude really turns her on, while my fellow recovering addict Jimmy Fry admitted he wished he’d said, “It’s a book, baby. Of COURSE I made it up!” instead of trying to make nice to her.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the fullness of time has revealed a couple of lovely “what ifs” in the Bob story.

The most poignant in my opinion has to do with Steve Turner’s publicity coup. Somehow, by virtue of his magnetic personality and tireless work ethic, Steve managed to snag the attention of Randy Kennedy, an arts reporter for the “New York Times.” He told Randy the incredible story of Bob’s discovery, of Bob’s long struggle to understand the Hubert’s archive and to have the Arbus photos authenticated, and of the triumphal, forthcoming auction of the Arbus/Hubert’s archive at Phillips de Pury Galleries. Damned if Kennedy didn’t run the story, complete with one of the striking Arbus photos from the archive on November 22, 2007. We were elated. Problem was, the auction wasn’t scheduled to take place until April 2008. That gave Bayo adequate time to learn of Bob’s labors and to find himself an opportunistic Court Street legal beagle. If that article hadn’t come out who’s to say how the scenario might have run? Possibly Phillips would have held their auction, the archive would have sold, and Bob would have won the day without Bayo being any the wiser.

Another thing that dawned on me recently has to do with the stunning bequest by the Arbus estate of all Arbus’s materials to the Metropolitan Museum. This took place at the end of 2007, but it was by nature a very complicated deal, and it must have been in the works for years. That means that when Bob was negotiating with Jeff Rosenheim at the Met, Rosenheim already knew that he was about to gain access to all the Arbus photographs he’d ever need. That would certainly explain his attempts to de-link the Arbus photos from the Hubert’s archive. What he wanted more than anything was the documentary record of that strange and wonderful freak show that had inspired some of Arbus’s great work. Seems to me that, had the bequest from the Arbus estate not been forthcoming, Jeff Rosenheim would have been a lot more aggressive in pursuing Bob’s goods which, by his own admission, he really liked – and the whole Arbus/Hubert’s archive might have wound up at the Met.

Oops! There’s my agent again. Gotta go…

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Strong Market Interest"

Well, it’s official. An article in April’s “Maine Antiques Digest” announced that Bob Langmuir had reached an out of court settlement with Bayo Ogunsanya over his purchase of the Arbus/Hubert’s archive. Nobody was allowed to talk specifics, but Bayo intimated there had been cash up front and the promise of a cut of future sales of the archive. In return, Bob has clear title to the material. Regarding the Arbus photographs Bayo told the MAD reporter, “Hopefully, he will be selling them for as much as he can get and soon too.”

As you may recall, Phillips was set to auction the archive last April only to cancel the sale under a cloud of mystery. This seemingly flew in the face of the contract they’d made with Bob, giving him a substantial advance, and guaranteeing him a large sum from the sale of the archive. Now Bob is free to re-examine this issue with Phillips de Pury.

But, as with everything else in this wonderful story, the Phillips situation has gotten more complicated. Joseph Kraeutler - the “photography expert” who took on the archive and who, presumably, committed Phillips to the hefty guarantee they made Bob – has left the gallery, so he won’t be around to negotiate. Charlie Scheips is still there, but after his “mystery buyer” for the archive failed to surface, he may have fewer bargaining chips. Then, last winter, Phillips de Pury was purchased by Mercury Group - a high-end retail operation selling luxury brands out of Moscow. Will Bob be negotiating with Russian tough guys who never heard of Diane Arbus?

Perhaps, but there’s more. A recent article in Conde Nast’s “” ( suggests that Phillips is on hard times. Their sale of hip-hop jewelry which – much like the Arbus sale – was postponed last fall in order to “accommodate strong market interest,” has now been cancelled indefinitely. Presumably “strong market interest” and “mystery buyer” are code words for “nobody gives a damn about our stuff.” The Portfolio article goes on to explain, “A year ago, when customers began delaying their payments to the auction house, de Pury discontinued his practice of offering guarantees. That move, in turn, reduced both the number of consigners and the quality of lots Phillips attracts. Last fall’s sales were disastrous, and close to half of the house’s lots didn’t sell.”

The settlement with Bob left Bayo gleefully anticipating his big payday when the Arbus stuff sells for millions. Now it sounds as if he might be in for a wait.

If you’d care to revisit the issues discussed above, the new paperback edition of HUBERT’S FREAKS has just been released and should be available at retail outlets everywhere. The book contains a new chapter updating the Bob saga, and a handsome new cover. Signed copies can be purchased on our website at

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Just Another Day at the Office

Well, it seems no one cared enough about Dr. Jonathan Fast or his book “Ceremonial Violence” to publish the review in which I excoriate him for sloppy research work. (Among other sins, he cited aliases in my book “Gone Boy” as if they were real characters, never having bothered to do even rudimentary primary source work.) Surprisingly, there was more interest in the idea that works like “Ceremonial Violence” are part of a burgeoning quasi-pornographic genre of “serious” books about serial killers, mass murders and school shootings. Such writings are pornographic in that they purport to educate us on issues of violence, when in fact one of their primary functions is arousal – that strange titillation we get when we are exposed to bizarre and terrifying human behavior. This may be no more than a desire to normalize the unthinkable, but if anyone doubts that it’s going viral, turn on Fox Murder-News any night, or go to Amazon Books and type in “School Shootings.” Last time I tried it 4057 hits came up.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Freaks are stirring. A reporter for the Maine Antique Digest emailed me the news that Bayo Ogunsanya told her he expects a settlement with Bob Langmuir by February 10th. If true, that would open the way for Bob to begin negotiating with Phillips de Pury & Co. about the contract he signed with them and the mysterious cancellation of the auction in which his Arbus-Hubert’s archive was to be sold.

However, while Bob was playing liar’s poker with Bayo, big changes were taking place at Phillips. Last fall a high end Russian retail group called Mercury bought a controlling interest in Phillips de Pury & Co. Simon de Pury remained with the firm as executive chairman, but Joseph Kraeutler, one of the geniuses who engineered the deal for the Arbus-Hubert’s archive, is gone. According to Linked In, he’s now in the financial services industry. A man named Bernd Runge will be taking over artistic direction of the auction house, a move that raised a few eyebrows. According to, “Runge worked as a spy, code-named Olden, for the East German Stasi secret police from 1981 to 1989… Phillips said it was aware of Runge’s involvement with the Stasi. ‘It’s not something that clouds his achievements… or his ability to do the job here.’”

Just another day at the office in the world of high art.