Before heading up, Jacob always checked his mailbox. He never expected there to be much more than the New York Times, but still. He could remember the letters he wrote and received when he was a young man and an inkling of hope resided in the memory. As he opened the lock, he enjoyed the dutiful sound of the rusty key in the old metal box, though the small joy swiftly seeped out of him when he saw his daily accompanied by the only other thing he ever found in there. He tore open the envelope in a straight line and read another version of the same message he had been receiving for years now. “Dear Mr. Patri, on behalf of my client I would like to inform you of the happy news that we are willing to offer you the sum of 2.5 million USD for your townhouse. Yours sincerely,” signed by one of those over-gelled real-estate agents called Trent or something like it. “Damned leeches,” Jacob muttered as he crumpled up the letter.
His shoulders stooped as he sauntered wearily to the stairs that led to the door of his apartment. A growl with a sigh gave away his tiredness, a combination of the long day and the exertion of the fifteen-step ascension. He raised the keyring that was still in his left hand. This lock made no rusty vocations, but it was a happy interaction nonetheless. At the touch of the chip that hung next to the tethered key the automated oak door opened with three soft clicks. A warm salutation awaited him as the five o’clock sundown lit up a neatly organized desk. The rosewood desk rested on lean, rectangular steel legs, and the metal handles on both columns of four drawers glistened almost as much as the wood’s lacquer did in the dusty light. A colorful vintage Mont Blanc laid aligned to an almost finished black leather Moleskine, while a charred gray iMac stood erect, somewhat alienated from its surroundings, as a young surveyor that was just promoted over its senior colleagues, eager to prove he earned the advancement. An abstract sculpture stood securely on the left upper corner; a rendition of Picasso’s Figures Au Bord De La Mer, though instead of the sandy color palette, it was executed in bright blues, an ochry yellow and an alarming orange. After the door locked itself behind him, he passed through the warm rays and put his groceries down in the kitchen. The lid of the trashcan lifted as his hand approached and revealed the segregated trash in the tripartite of paper, plastic and other. Trent was cast away without giving the sum a second thought.
He opened the stainless-steel refrigerator and put away the chicken thighs, the fresh peas, some parsley, a bunch of carrots and the frozen puff pastry, all for a pot pie dinner and, except for the pastry, all fresh from the automated farmer’s market around the corner. As he went about in the fridge to organize its contents, he took out a chilled bottle of red Vermouth. Jacob had been on the go since morning, and the one o’clock pick-me-up had needed to be postponed to cocktail-hour. It was a habit he picked up in his late twenties when he lived in Barcelona, although now consumed much too late in the day for the Catalans. With care, he prepared a silver pick with a bitesize slice of orange and a green olive from the Spanish deli in Greenwich. He put two ice cubes in a crystal glass that was intricately decorated with a geometric pattern of forest green incisions all around and filled the glass almost to the brim with the fortified auburn wine. With a sharp and elegant movement that obscured his age he speared the liquid surface with the silver pick and took a moment to savor the beauty of such simplicity.
With the drink settled on a napkin in his hand, he returned to the living room. He sat down behind the desk in his lobby chair and indulged in the red, softened leather that was a testament to the resilience of Eames’ design. A sip or two while he got out his transparent, acetate, round reading glasses and logged on with his Apple ID. When the computer chimed the welcoming composition of entering the online sphere he went straight to his Gmail. Some twenty invitations to gallery openings all over the state, the country and even some international had been sent to him since he last checked his phone that afternoon. As he scrolled down the list, he mumbled both favorably and contemptuously as he saved or deleted the invitations one by one. After being globally acclaimed as a creative epicenter for just over a decade, the Bronx had now lost its shine and, at the same time, a revival had started in downtown Manhattan. He didn’t like to admit it, but many openings were sifted out on their geographical information alone. One rotten sell-out would generally contaminate the whole bunch and he knew that his beloved neighborhood was, in the avantgarde sense, pretty much done. Jacob entered the selected openings he would attend into his datebook, both in his pocket Moleskine and his online one, so his editor would be up to date with his plans and he could opt out of another virtual meeting. Jacob wrote several reviews every week, but he did not publish them all. He stirred things in the artworld decades ago when he posted a vlog where he put a pin to a glistening balloon puppy and declared Jeffrey Koon’s art to be confined hot air, after which the decline of the artist soon ensued. Now he enjoyed being a revered, somewhat notorious art-critic. He took pride in his position as a senior staff-member at New York Magazine and always wielded this power to publish at least two reviews in the weekly journal, or more if he felt like it, and another three he would post on different outlets online. As he checked the clock on the wall he realized he wouldn’t have time to cook before his next appointment.
He rose quickly and walked back into the kitchen where his phone was still on the counter. He opened the KitchenAid app and selected the preprogrammed ‘Alba’s chicken pot pie’ option and set it to be done at eight thirty. The cherry red apparatus stood charging in the corner but activated at the app’s signal and the humanlike machine strolled soundlessly past Jacob to gather all the fresh ingredients. Jacob went to the bathroom to comb his hair and freshen up with a dab of cologne behind each ear, he threw on a purple paisley silk scarf his late Alba had once brought him as a souvenir from Spain and he rushed out the door. Cabs had become a rarity and those that still drove around the city were usually hired by some nostalgic tourist, but it was too late for an Uber, so he took the subway. Jacob preferred the subway anyway, especially since the renovations in 2022. The floating Maglev trains were faster and cheaper, and his travel companions were overall much more interesting than the variety of jaded millennials that had been unable to escape the Uber life behind the wheel of their upgraded Subaru Outbacks, trapped in daily NYC traffic.
He sat down on the last empty stool of a five-chair row, encapsulated in the middle by a sharp looking woman on his right, dressed in an embroidered business suit that was engaged in a heated online discussion as she typed away irascibly on her mobile device, and a dusty man to his left, that must be coming from a construction site, by the look of his sturdy but worn boots. Projected adds moved through the crowd, shifting from subject to subject as they targeted different passengers, no more than two adds per person per two stops. A group of four young men was making music in the next area on a couple of synthesizers that was somewhat reminiscent of jazz, and Jacob relaxed for a moment as he submerged himself in the subterranean micro-society.
He got out one stop earlier to wake himself up and walked the last blocks to the downtown gallery ‘Vogels,’ a monument attesting to two of the greatest art collectors when he was younger, though Jacob was inclined to expect that this exposition would not live up to the Vogel’s standards. It had not even been his decision to go; his editor-in-chief had insisted he attended the show. Of course, he knew about the online buzz that the artist, Nadia Dinah, had created, and he was unimpressed by it. Habitually, he found online successes to be fluffed up repetitions of something he had come across before. And he expected Dinah to be not much different. During his walk he armored himself with this pessimistic disposition and approached the East Village gallery with resolve. A colorfully clad young man with a mismatched grim attitude stood bored at the door but at the sight of Jacob, immediately straightened up and let him through without checking his name on the guestlist. “How good of you to come Mr. Patri.” He was early, as he liked to be, and was able to make his round before any cater-waiter could approach him with some deficient yet trendy cuisine and he was out the door without witnessing the artist’s entrance.
Jacob did not go home straight away but walked all the way to the Spanish deli in Greenwich Village. Something had just happened in that opening, and he was not yet sure how to explain it. He felt numbed but oddly exhilarated at the same time and hoped the walk and the familiar surroundings of the deli would help him gather his thoughts. Dinah’s works had something to them, that he simultaneously recognized yet felt fundamentally invigorated by. But he could not quite put his finger on it. He entered ‘Aloja’ and hardly noticed the liveliness that was typical for the place at this hour and took a seat in the corner at the bar. After greeting the owner and ordering his usual, he took out his notebook. What had Nadia shown him? He had spotted some obvious inspirations, mostly modernist, but some colors and movements had been combined so unabashedly boldly that the collection subjugated the general sense of uneasiness that such clashing formulas would normally fashion. He tried to pin down what it was that had amazed him so. He mulled over his red wine and notebook for hours and soon it was starting to get late. He took out his phone and opened Instagram to see what was on Nadia’s feed.
He scrolled past the abstract paintings she promoted, and the socialite lifestyle she upheld, and slowly a repetitive formula became apparent. Characteristics from at least two art movements up until the 20th century were at the basis of every collection; distinct styles meshed together and alternated with color schemes. It was not obvious, but now that he was looking for it, he realized that the Baroque paintings were depicting Surrealist scenes with an occasional dash of the fluidity from Futurism, resulting in some awkward paintings that Dinah’s followers raved about. He noticed Russian Suprematism that was softened when the hard lines dozed off in blurred backdrops that reminded him of Musée Marmottan in Paris, where he saw Monet’s waterlilies with his Alba. The amalgamated style now failed to stir him. Could she be this blatantly formulaic? His phone buzzed. A new post from Nadia took him to the top of her feed. A fresh work of art, still gleaming with wet paint, appeared with a couple of generic hashtags. An obvious step away from the modernist style he had distinguished in her latest collection, this one entered a Fauvist look that lacked the spirited colors.
Something in the right lower corner was off, though. He zoomed in as much as the app allowed him to and focused his vision through his round spectacles. Instead of Nadia’s pompous signature he found instead a small incision made in the deep currant colored corner, he could only just make out the letters MUSE-RT40. Tiny red drops rolled away from where the incisions were made. Jacob smiled to himself. Instantly he remembered his wife’s work so many years ago. Together with a team of promising students, she had created ARTIBOT, a machine that was programmed to create new ‘art’ by deriving elements from a database of artwork that was implemented into its hard drive. He had been disgusted at first, by the idea that art would be diminished to such standards. But he soon saw the irony in it, and the verisimilitude of the inanimate creating life, because in his eyes, that is what art does. It mirrors life and, in that reflection, creates it, in turn. In a world that was growing more and more digital and programmed, it made sense to him for a robot to be creative.
Others hadn’t found it as interesting, and the artworks were soon deemed insignificant and crude. As far as he was aware, algorithmic endeavors at creativity had been collecting rust and dust for a while now. Maybe one had been put up for sale and Nadia found it. She must have updated it, because this was far more advanced than any works of this kind he had ever come across. The realization had sobered him up and he decided to go home before he would be with his Aloja family all night. He arrived at his old townhouse at two thirty in the morning.
He woke up at eight, from what was a restless night, instructed the KitchenMaid to heat up the pot pie from the previous evening and, after a quick shower, had a heavy and wistful breakfast at his desk.
While the iMac stood softly whirring, Jacob drew his Moleskine towards him. He opened it up to the last pages that were still empty, uncapped his fountain pen and let it hover above the page for a few seconds.
Simulated Veritas To Tell You the Truth
Written by Jacob Patri
Yesterday, on October 17th, I entered a familiar world.
Nadia Dinah presented a new collection at downtown
gallery ‘Vogels’ and it turned out to be an astonishingly
relevant event. Dinah’s reputation has been long esta-
blished on a plethora of media platforms, and while I
find myself usually unencumbered by any lure such
starlets might exercise, this time I took the Maglev
The collection’s style left little to the imagination, as
it was clearly an accomplishment of forging moder-
nist styles, and while the artist may have exerted it-
self on research, it had been unable to arrive at truly
creative output. Instead, what I found last night was
a reflection of what might be called ‘Society as is.’ If
art is the transaction between the artwork and the
beholder, to alternate their view of the reality around
them, then I witnessed art in its purest form.
The rectangles of color that fill the Vogel’s walls attest
to the automated world that has come to soothe our
human hardship. Dinah has cleverly implored a ma-
chine to create pastiches of modernist daubs and as
such she has succeeded in confronting her audience
with the simulated society we are now all part of.
I salute the collection and offer my congratulations
to the collaborative duo of Dinah vs. MUSE-RT40 that
has already made Nadia Dinah an astronomical suc-
cess. For it is the tantalizing mediocrity of the works
that only imbeds further the truth that they convey. <
Jacob put down his pen, sent a scan straight to his editor and scheduled a copy to be delivered to Nadia Dinah at the time of distribution. He was convinced that he had just done her a great favor, even if it was likely that she would not be able to continue as she did now. Jacob Patri was most faithful to truth, and understood Nadia to be exercising irony, which entertained him even more. He turned off his computer, put away his now finished notebook and looked over to the small sculpture on the left corner of his desk. “Well there you go, Alba. Who would have thought.” He got up and fixed himself another venust glass of Vermouth. <
Written by Saskia Soelaksana
This short story is a different perspective on the previously published short story Girl Before Mirror.