She means, I'm sure, you never stop loving, even after forty-three years of irrevocable absence. She snaps on the lights, leads me to the door. We pass through the narrow kitchen, where a Larry Rivers drawing of Ruth rests atop the counter. The we arrive at what can only be called The Wall of Kligman, an entire gallery's worth of photographs devoted to herself. That's Ruth and Jasper Johns in at her gallery show, their arms around each other, beaming at the camera.
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There's Ruth looking remarkably like Elizabeth Taylor, to whom she's often been compared. Here's Ruth in , photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe. It strikes me as very impressive, if not a little prematurely posthumous. The next time we see each other, after upbraiding me for not calling her when I said I was going to "You're a man, you probably didn't even know you did it," she says teasingly , Ruth Kligman gets right to the mystery that is haunting her: "Why did Jackson want to know me? Why did they all want to know me? Why was I there? It's a karmic question, to be sure, with a pardonable touch of preening.
After all, her little black book could pass for an Abrams's guide to twentieth-century painting. Tonight, in a flowing white dress, Kligman positively radiates queenliness.
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The staff at the restaurant where we're having supper treats her with a sort of vexed deference, unsure of whether she's someone they should know. She had lobbied for the Four Seasons or Le Cirque, but we have ended up downtown at Il Cantinori, a restaurant in Greenwich Village, just scant blocks from where she met Pollock one evening in at the Cedar Street Bar despite the name, then located at Eighth Street and University Place , a now-legendary artists' hangout where, as is customary in such places, thousands of masterpieces were painted by hand in the smoky air during nights of drunken talk, then never quite re-created with the same bravura the next hungover morning in the studio.
With Pollock then occupying the Ernest Hemingway Papa Bear Chair of the art world, his arrival had electrified the joint. Patrons, themselves enlarged by a genius in their midst, secretly hoped to witness a brawl--Pollock was known to randomly punch people out, often famous artists--or some other memorable atrocity, such as the time ripped the bathroom door off its hinges.
And before that, on the Upper East Side, he had wandered into a cocktail party at the collector PEggy Guggenheim's peed into the fireplace, and wandered out again.
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Drunken genius has always had its privileges, especially when it's not your fireplace. He felt good about [Ruth]—you know, a pretty, voluptuous gal, thinking he was the greatest man in the world, and in love. Even today, Kligman purveys an oxymornic blend—the hauteur of an alluring woman who knows her own beauty with the child of divorce's eagerness to please, especially Baddy. For someone so admittedly electrified by the high voltage of self, Kligman nonetheless inspires those around her to shine.
He was expressing the way I feel. I said to him, 'You are the greatest painter in the world. Why are you crying? I would say to him, 'Don't you know what you've done? I mean, it wasn't Clem Greenberg saying it, it was me. He knew that I knew something. Bill de Kooning knew, too. They all did. That's why they gravitated to me.
See, I thought it was my appearance, but it was this other quality—my intuition. That spring, Pollock and Kligman would meet in bars and her apartment whenever he would come into the city from his home in East Hampton in order to visit his shrink. As the affair progressed, they began spending more time together on Pollock and his wife's home turf, the Hamptons, which in those days was not the posh celebrity summer camp it is today but sort of rural Greenwich Village, where artists could find a cheap house and work in relative isolation under the high Atlantic Light.
Early one morning that summer, Brasner caught her husband and Kligman sneaking out of a barn next to their home, giggling as they went, and delivered Pollock the usual ultimatum: her or me. Krasner then departed to Europe for six weeks, perhaps hoping that the affair would cool off when the two paramours had each other all to themselves.
Pollock immediately installed Kligman in the farmhouse he and Krasner shared. As Pollock's friend, the late Hamptons fixture Patsy Southgate, told his biographer Jeffrey Potter, Pollock's "dream was to have both" women.
But he sensed the local community's disapproval, an attitude encapsulated in one wife's depiction of Kligman as an "art bobby-soxer. Yet as claustrophobic and harrowing as their East Hampton sojourn often was, Kligman has largely colorized the stark film of those weeks.
I think I had met him before; he was a very deep soul mate. Nothing else could explain why I've been involved with him over the years. He died in my arms. When rescuers arrived, they found Ruth, who had also been thrown from the car, pulling herself down the road on her stomach, calling for Jackson. That's what he wanted. He wanted to start over. He was only forty-four. He had lived a certain way all his life, but it was hurting his art. He wanted a sweeter romantic life. The resentment and the publicity had isolated him.
Lee Krasner and Clem Greenberg liked him when he was down and out. I tried to break off with him.
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All these years, I've been blaming myself for what happened. I bought the myth that I was the seductress, that everything was my fault, that I killed Jackson Pollock. But he manipulated the separation [from Lee]. I wonder if Ruth ever had any contact with Krasner, who has been dead since She sighs. I went up to her at a party back in the '60s. I said, 'Jackson really cared about. I want someone to tell me.
She looks at me, half-imploringly, half-expectantly. What the heck?
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