I’m a bit reticent to relate this. While it happened back in the 1960’s, some of the people may still be alive. However, it’s such a good story, I’ve decided to go with it. In order to protect those that need it, I’ve changed names and places and various other things without altering the essentials.
The museum decided that a 120 foot frieze would look really lovely along one wall so they let a load of artists know and asked them to submit tenders for the work. One stepped forward. Let’s call him Tom. Tom was a chap who had worked for the museum in the past and was reliable as well as very talented. His tender of £5,000 for a job that would take him five years was acceptable to the powers-that-were. He set to work.
Tom submitted preliminary sketches of the completed frieze, which depicted various forms of transport. The museum people were very excited; it was going to be a wonderful addition to the gallery for which it was intended. But (didn’t you just know there was going to be a but) before Tom could start dipping his brushes in paint, the problems started.
While the frieze was largely generic, Tom had included a well known brand with his inclusion of a petrol station. The museum curator immediately sent off a letter to the company, asking whether it would be okay for Tom to include their very recognisable logo in the finished frieze. There was a bit of back and forth negotiation but, eventually, the company agreed as long as the museum paid them £500 for the privilege.
And so the £500 was paid and work started on the frieze. From the off, Tom was given an advance of £50. It seemed like everyone was happy.
Fast forward two years and Tom isn’t so happy. He’d received no more money although he’s been working diligently on the frieze. He wrote a letter to the museum asking for some more, saying he wasn’t going to paint any further unless he was. This set the cat among the pigeons.
Internal memos were sent hither and thither until the buck stopped with someone high up who had no idea what it was all about. He started an internal inquiry into the whole thing. The first thing this brought to light was the £500 payment to the petrol company. He wasn’t happy because this was not normal practice and had not gone through the right channels for review and agreement. Actually, having read the internal memo, he wasn’t so much unhappy as utterly furious. He wanted a full report about the whole frieze idea from start to finish…or at least where it was up to.
This high up chap (let’s call him Harry) was concerned that Tom the artist hadn’t received any more money and suggested he be sent a payment of £1000 in order to continue. Everything then seems to have returned to normal.
Fast forward another 12 months and the whole thing kicks off again. Harry has moved on and his replacement wants to know what’s going on with the frieze. He is given a full report mostly made up of the old report plus the progress made on the frieze. It turns out that Tom hasn’t painted anything more and the project has stalled for reasons no-one seems to understand.
The next note on the Frieze File is from 1979. Yet another director has decided to get involved. He wants to know what the whole deal was and what, if anything, the museum has in its possession. A memo sent back to him says there is a single canvas of 20 feet long in storage which the director can have a look at if he likes.
The director then asks whether the painting could be used for anything or if it was just an unfinished piece of a much larger whole. The next note claims it isn’t very good for anything and is just kept in storage.
I don’t know if it’s still there but I’ve seen a black and white photo of the piece that was completed and I reckon it looks fantastic…though it does appear to be missing the rest of the story. A shame I couldn’t scan the photo and include it but I think there could be copyright issues.