By NANCY SMITH, August 2022
By now, everyone knows that the notorious early Artnet bad boy scribe, Charlie Finch has committed his final act of shocking flamboyance... defenestration - according to Walter Robinson, he literally threw himself out of a window, and boy did that work - we’re all remembering him now. He wasn’t my friend, he wasn’t even my acquaintance - he was my colleague. After perusing a handful of photos, Walter took me on as an event photographer at Artnet in 2002. But it was Charlie, who really gave me my first break, and my first assignment: “Bring in photos of Tracey Emin’s opening at Lehmann Maupin’s new radical all plywood Rem Koolhaas designed space on West 26th.” My 3 first-ever published photos, lit up along side what was essentially Charlie doing what he did best: ripping poor Tracey apart. From, “There’s a perfect little bed… and the usual assortment of retardaire, spastic drawings, typical of Tracey’s catatonic fear of drawing, speaking, thinking and all things rational.”, thru “When David Bowie introduced us to Tracey three years ago, we then told her, you couldn’t get arrested in New York. Now, she would barely be allowed to buy a Happy Meal.” - onto the clincher: “More intriguing than her installation is Emin’s most unusual mouth, a seductively languid pelican’s beak of saucy relaxation, poor dentistry and careless living. It’s her most erotic feature.”
And my art world photo-journalist career - was off & running...
Charlie was outrageous, but he always hit the button. Every Friday everybody dropped whatever they were doing to catch Walter’s fearless posting of Charlie’s latest salvo. The internet had arrived in the art world - with fabulous glory. To me these guys were art world rock stars, a big part of the fascination of working for Artnet, was being in the center of that wicked, wicked Charlie Finch/Walter Robinson art world sandwich. They fought like cats and dogs, “you’re fired”, “I quit”, egging each other on - but totally joined at the hip. After the Tracey Emin coup, Walter gave me my very own photo column: ‘Art Lovers New York’ - Photos by Nancy Smith, and set me loose to prowl the scene any which way I wanted. After having given me my debut headlining boost, Charlie moved on, but not before crowning me with my absolute fav fab nickname: 'Crackula'! i.e. sharp as a whip, loves to crack jokes - and I guess claiming me for the ‘Coagula - most art sucks’ fold, with flying honors.
Charlie would always tell everyone, full volume: “Don’t underestimate Crackula.” When I finally had had it, (by late 2004 self-publishing was a reality) and I quit to start my own website (after Walter had fired me for the 3rd time), before first reducing me to tears, of course, because: “I brought in too many pics of musicians at openings, and this was an art magazine.” Charlie told him, it was the biggest mistake of his life. So, I thought, wee! maybe we were friends?
I invited Charlie to a group show - where I was showing some watercolors. On Friday, sure enough, out came the Charlie Finch ‘Royal Flush’ headline on the show, titled something like, ‘An Unknown Art Star is the Gem of the Show’ and, my heart started pounding, was I really to get my first mainstream recognition? Then as I read on, Charlie proceeded to do what he did best - rip!, and I mean rip to shreds. It went something like, “in the midst of a show of wannabes, the gem of the evening, was the small, half-forgotten painting, placed as an after-thought, beside a filing cabinet, in the back room office.”
Classic! Classic! Charlie Finch. Lure you in, and cut you up.
And so, he was - Coagula, to the very end, even as his own writing star had faded, in that terrifying but defining final drop - from a window. WM