The Seventh Seal


Whitney Biennial 2014
Whitney Museum of American Art
Through May 25, 2014

"I think of the media as a cannibalistic river… that absorbs everything." Gretchen Bender

"The image is dead. The icon is dead. The painting is dead." Patricia Cronin

"I am a deeply superficial person." Andy Warhol



Table, Bjarne Melgaard “nude African American female” fiberglass figure chairs, “giant stuffed Pink Panther dolls,” enormous ceramic phalluses.

Hypnotic atmosphere.

Adam Driver, Idris Elba, Ellen Barkin, Heath Ledger, Michael Lee Nirenberg, James Franco, Billy Cyborg, NARRATOR, [SEVEN BACKGROUND/EVENING DRESSES] stoned on their milk-plus, their feet resting on faces, crotches, lips of the sculptured furniture.


“Righty right right,” I say. “So what will it be tonight then?”


Move in slowly to NARRATOR slumped in chair and:


Well, there we were: my brothers, that is, me and Billy Cyborg, Lena Dunham, Travis Mathews, James Franco, Bjarne Melgaard (who came with someone called Ragnar, who was the lead singer for the Norwegian black metal band Aryan Kittens, whose body would later be found in a Bed Bath and Beyond parking lot in Greenwich, stabbed and asphyxiated, covered with numbers and x’s drawn in Sharpie, which would later be identified as “non-lethal entry points," and with his eyes covered by two shiny 1939 Deutsch marks), David Salle, Deborah Kass, and a few others, who were invited by Julian Schnabel to Peter Brant’s house for dinner. We are sitting around a large Frank Gehry Eager Beaver cardboard table, covered by the remnants of dinner (fish tacos, something called Bichon Frisé Ceviche, a warm chicken tartare pizzette, and squid ink churros y sea urchins chocolats), seven bottles of a rare Nevermore Pinot Noir 1968, mostly empty, and piles of silver glitter and confetti covering the congealing plates, trying to make up our minds about what to do with the evening, it being a flip dark chill winter bastard, though dry. Stephanie Seymour is humming “Welcome to the Jungle” as she is scraping out little lines on the new Coldplay CD, and Ellen Barkin is imitating one of the Bjarne Melgaard chairs, pretending to be a handbag rest for Amy Adams. Jared Leto and James Franco are discussing “The Method." Jared Leto is describing how he researched a transvestite character called Nylon for a recent Academy Award-winning film: “So I attended a meeting of Transgendered Anonymous, and they asked me to speak. So I got up and said, ‘Sometimes I feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body.' [beat] Yeah, seriously, that’s how tight my girlfriend’s pussy is…" He doubles over in laughter and snorts. James Franco studies him seriously and says, “Wow, that’s really good. I got gangbanged by a hundred guys in a public toilet at Venice Beach for my role in Interior. Leather Bar.” 

It is freezing inside the house. I can see my breath. Ragnar mumbles something like “it reminds me of home” to Rooney Mara. She turns nervously to Philip Seymour Hoffman and pretends to start a conversation.

In the background Daft Punk’s remix of Bizzle’s version of Miley Cyrus’s cover of Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby” is playing. We are supposed to be back in the city for The Event, and we are running kind of late, and my invitation [Japanese handmade linen paper, with platinum-leafed type (something called Bolivian Rail)] is getting soggy under my glass, which is empty except for melting ice cubes and chewed limes. So I yelp “Out out out!” like a doggie, cracking Franco, his face a Klonopined rictus, on the old ear-hole, but he doesn’t feel it and just keeps mumbling, “There were so many cocks.” But he’d feel it later all right, when he comes to, out of the land. Our pockets are full of money, so there was no need on that score, but, as they say, money isn't everything.


Swerving car, forcing other cars off the road, trying to hit pedestrians, etc.


“Righty right right,” I say. “So what will it be tonight then?”

Ironically, Billy Cyborg seems the most sober to drive, although he missed the memo on “formal attire” and is wearing a black Betsy Johnson t-shirt that has white letters that say “PLEASE FUCK ME” on the front and pink leather pants that I'm pretty sure he has been wearing since December. I'm wearing a Cerruti one-button suit, Paul Smith Oxford cloth button-down shirt, Ralph Lauren tie, prescription-less Oliver Peoples tortoiseshell glasses, and a pair of eel skin Valentino loafers. Because of “road construction,” Billy Cyborg has detoured onto the Appian Way. The Durango 95 is purring away real nice, a warm vibratey feeling all through the snoozing passengers (Billy Cyborg up front with Lindsay Lohan; David Salle, me, and James Franco squeezed in the back, our bodies forming a hazy penumbra around the dashboard lights and dials). Soon it was trees and dark, my brothers, with real country dark. Billy Cyborg was messing around with other travelers of the night, playing hogs-of-the-road, and running over odd, squealing things along the way. Then we head east, towards the city; what we were after now was the old “surprise visit.” That was going to be a real kick, and good for laughs.

And the guard says, “Come and see.”

Franco points out the window to the night sky. “See all those stars? They don’t exist anymore.”

[Scene Deleted]


Brutilist Architecture/poured concrete/ "prison-like" feel.

The line is long, but we are whisked to the front. I hand my invitation, now a warm, wet ball to the prison guard. The First Seal is opened, and I hear, somewhere in the background, the noise of thunder. David Byrne and Steve McQueen push ahead of me as it begins to rain, spatters of blood, then a hail of teeth, then animal bones. Lindsay Lohan, who is wearing a Comme des Garçon black evening dress, Christian Louboutin anaconda-skin pumps, and a Miu Miu jacket, presses close to avoid the wet. A skull crashes into the windscreen of a cream-colored Mercedes SL550 parked on Madison Avenue. Billy Cyborg is no longer needed, so an eager production assistant (who is fucking the assistant director) quietly escorts him offstage.

Then, brothers, I entered. O bliss, bliss and heaven. Oh it was gorgeousness and georgeosity. Bright and shiny objects covered the walls. As I looked, I never knew such lovely pictures. Like a bird of rarest spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now.


Sounds of screaming and clanking metal echoing in the background.


On the second floor the Second Seal opens and another guard says, “Come and see.” And, behold, there were things made of pure sound.


>Franco pushes ahead of me, all piggy-like and rude. He stumbles into a third guard who cackles softly and says, “Come and see.” 


The Third Seal opens. And we come to know fear.

There are some sophistos from Gagosian or a TV show or a new club called Koi or Toy milling around all smecking and laughing and govoreeting. Lena Dunham and Deborah Kass are watching Richard Pryor, who is performing a hilarious bit about a “freebasing mishap.” There are hundreds of notebooks by Mary Gaitskill and David Foster Wallace (1) scattered about. One of the notebooks is open, and I read an early sketch for a poem (2). There are paintings made from the ashes of death camps. On the wall nearby someone has scrawled “I smell the blood of les tricouteuses” in menstrual blood.

“Viddy well”, I say to Franco. “Viddy well my little brother.” Jared Leto begins to cry.

Follow NARRATOR and JAMES FRANCO into ELEVATOR. The door opens on the FOURTH FLOOR, then move out.


“Righty right right,” I say. And we pass another guard, and he says, “Come and see,” as the Fourth Seal opens.

STEADICAM moves in and circles.

NARRATOR is bound in an examination chair. A white-coated TECHNICIAN [Michael Fassbender] is strapping NARRATOR’S head to a medical device.

He then carefully attaches eyelid-locking devices to NARRATOR’s eyes. A film plays on a loop with two women naked, covered in shit, wrestling. Scorched earth/apocalyptic setting. Subtitles reading “The Tenth Circle.”


And viddy I would. Where I was taken to, brothers, was like no place I'd been in before. I was bound up in a straightjacket, and my gulliver was strapped to a headrest with wires running away from it. Then they clamped lidlocks on my eyes so I could not shut them no matter how hard I tried. It seemed a bit crazy to me, but I let them get on with what they wanted to get on with.

Ten or fifteen solemn PROFESSIONALS [Assorted B.G.] in white coats watch the proceedings and occasionally take notes. The TECHNICIAN drops eyedrops into NARRATOR’S eyes.


When it came to the sixth or seventh one, I began to feel really sick. But I could not shut my glazzies, and even if I tried to move my glazballs about, I still could not get out of the line of fire of these pictures.

NARRATOR squirming and retching.

NARRATOR on his knees. His hands cupped over his ears, banging his head on the floor.

Then he stops and slowly straightens up, staring at the window.


Suddenly I viddied what I had to do and what I had wanted to do, and that was to do myself in, to snuff it, to blast off forever out of this wicked cruel place. One moment of pain perhaps and then sleep forever and ever and ever.


NARRATOR leaps out of the window.


NARRATOR in bed. Camera slowly tracks along the length of his body. Everything is bandages and plaster splints, wire cages, blood drips. DOCTOR enters, along with ATTENDANT [Natalie Portman].


I jumped, O my brothers, and I fell hard but I did not snuff it, oh no. If I had snuffed it, I would not be here to tell what I have told. I came back to life, after a long, black, black gap of what might have been a million years.

DOCTOR [Patrick Wilson]:

I can tell you that I am deeply sorry about this, my boy. Deeply, deeply sorry. We tried to help you. We followed recommendations that had been made to us, which turned out to be wrong. An inquiry will place the responsibility where it belongs. We want you to regard us as friends. We've put you right. You’re getting the best of treatments. We never wished you harm, but there are some that did and do, and I think you know who those are. People who would be glad to see you dead. I think you know who those are. There is also a certain sick man, a writer, who has been howling for your blood. He's been mad with desire to stick a knife into you. But you're safe from him now. We've put him away. We put him away for his own protection.


Who can blame them, sir?


As I was saying, you can be instrumental in changing the public verdict. Do you understand? Have I made myself clear?


Clear as an unmuddied lake, sir. As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. You can rely on me.

I was cured all right.

David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 - September 12, 2008) was an award-winning American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and professor of English at Illinois State University, and a professor of creative writing at Pomona College. Wallace is widely known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which was cited as one of the “100 best English-language novels” from 1923 to 2005 by Time magazine. 

Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years." With his suicide, he left behind an unfinished novel, with footnotes, The Pale King, which was subsequently published in 2011. In 2012 it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which was not awarded that year. A biography of Wallace by D.T. Max, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, was published in September 2012. 

- Bradley Rubenstein

The Whitney Museum of American Art is at 945 Madison Avenue, New York, New York.


Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.