The group of New York writers who look like ’90s supermodels were having a cocktail they’d read about in a Vanity Fair article from the ’90s, laughing, wearing white pants to accentuate hips and flat stomachs, having more fun. More fun than the artists, was the point. It was a dinner for an art magazine, but that meant it was a dinner for the writers. Or at least they would make sure it felt that way for everyone else. The artists were mostly beautiful, too, but made to feel guilty about that sometimes, and so their chosen dress was between sexy and frumpy, disheveled Milan Kundera characters. It wasn’t looking good for any of the women there with hopes of getting laid. It wasn’t looking good for the editor of the magazine, either: the girl he’d hired to write about the party for another publication was very drunk, and the meal had yet to be served. This hired writer leaned over the table to say hello to a woman whose art she thought she liked, but wasn’t sure. “I know your work,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you.” The artist was flattered. She wasn’t well known, but a big collector had recently bought two of her pieces and her gallerist was more optimistic than ever. She knew who this writer was, and couldn’t help but want to be her. The writer was thin and tall and black and friends with all the kids who admitted to being rich and who had parties in beautiful town houses. “It’s nice to meet you too,” said the artist, who was white and short. “I know your work as well.” By work she meant popularity. She must be a good writer, though, to have gotten so much attention. Was the writer rich, too? She was wearing a Gucci dress and gold Cartier bracelets, but anything could be borrowed or fake. As an artist, was she supposed to be able to tell, or was it better that she didn’t know? The show from which the collector had purchased her pieces was in a Lower East Side group show. Every artist in it was female, but that wasn’t the point of it. The next thing she did shouldn’t be so body-centric, she thought, looking at all the other artworks. It was becoming boring. When she sat in her studio, thinking about what to do next — the move after what most would view as her first one — her gaze would drift to the window, and through it, a mylar balloon bobbed on a tree branch, its remaining opaque color confettied around a silver seam. It was likely a pink balloon once, welcoming a baby girl into existence. How could she think outside of her body, she thought, again, in circles: the body, it is me; the outside world, it defines my body; but the body, is it me? And: my art, it is the outside world I can define. But the writer, what was she? Once it was settled that they would go home together, neither one of them wanting to back down from the other’s dare to try out hooking up with a woman for the first time, it was a question of whose place. The studio, in Chinatown, was closer than either of their apartments. Surrounded by her own lack of art, the artist kissed the writer. Each woman had the crippling thought at many points throughout their one-night stand that it would be so much fun for someone else to watch this. The writer left when it started getting light out and hated herself for not getting an angle on the party other than it being so sexy that she felt compelled to try something totally new. She hadn’t really looked at this artist’s work when she was in front of it. She’d been too drunk and nervous. “She great,” said her friend, another writer who’d been at the party and saw them leave together. “Just write the piece about your impromptu studio visit.” Later that day, after a very short nap, the writer’s recap became the first real press on the artist, describing her drawings as “not just boundary breaking, but boundary re-establishing.” Maybe one day the artist would make portraits of the writer, in return for this writer making a portrait of her. That’s how it happened, said Sean, also an artist who’d seen the two talking that night. They helped each other out. The writer wrote her biggest article right after that, and so the party recap got spillover traffic from people trying to figure out who this brilliant woman was. The artist’s next body of work was those sun-faded couches, with the outlines of people on them, you know the ones. Those were great.
Natasha Stagg (b. 1985, US) is an editor at V magazine. Her first novel is Surveys (Semiotext(e), 2016).