House of Anita: Artist-Dealer’s Visit

from the novel by BORIS LURIE

Editorial, Footnotes and Commentary
by Terence Sellers



Despite the latest electronic innovations in the kitchen, in our servants’ quarters, and in our specialized service equipment such as the sarcophagus, what is sadly missing from our House is a properly functioning door-bell.

Mistress Anita steadfastly refuses to install a proper bell, saying it would spoil the pristine purity of the Establishment.

Therefore when a visitor is expected, a servant has to await his or her arrival — oftentimes, for an extended period — in the entrance hall, known as ‘The Entree.’ This job is customarily mine.

On this day Mistress Anita has informed me that I am to afford entrance to a well-known artist-dealer, a woman of some standing, and accompany her to the Mistress’ study to await a further disposition.

So I took up my post in the Entree. Thirty minutes past the appointed hour — visitors to the House of Anita were invariably late — a very good-looking woman appeared, clad in a large mink coat, and presented her calling-card. I escorted her to the study and stood aside, in expectation of further orders.

Mistress Anita got up from behind her desk and informally extended her hand in
greeting, “You are Hannah Polanitzer! (2) I’ve heard so much about you, and your gallery, of course. It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person. Can I offer you some refreshment?”

The woman shyly declined, haltingly replying with a self-effacing smile that she was on a diet. After a brief pause, Miss Polanitzer observed:

“I truly admire this room, and these photos of all your celebrated friends. Let’s see which ones I can identify.” She proceeded to pick out Malraux, whom she remarked was “Quite young, in this picture.” Tapping framed images of Tristan Tzara, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Jackson Pollock, and Pablo Picasso, whose photo was inscribed: A ma Passion — ma Maitresse Culturelle — Pablo, she remarked, “One of his eyes is so intense it is coming right out of the photo!” (3)

“Is this President Kennedy? Or Robert? Or is it Edward?” (4) Miss Polanitzer picked up another photo, “And him, isn’t this General Rommel, in his funny Afrikan Corps uniform? Looking almost like an Englishman!” she added gaily.

“It’s Feldmarschall Rommel,” Anita interjected severely. (5)

“”And here’s Leon Trotsky, with the Mexican artist Siqueiros, who tried to murder him! (6) And Heinrich…”

“Joseph,” Anita corrected her in advance, “Goebbels.” (7)

Miss Polanitzer unpeeled herself from the confines of her mink. Out came an infinite number of gold artifacts — chains, chainlets, wristbands, rings, and a wide, sparkling belt around her waist. I notice Anita is impressed with this baroque ad infinitum of artefacts, as they are all of purest gold.

All the while she disrobed the lady smiled coyly, conveying to Anita that she knew she was in the presence of a wiser, superior personage.

“Your outfit is stunning, “ said Anita with conviction. “I simply adore Incan and Mayan jewelry. Some feel it is too aggressive, almost like weaponry. But to me, it is Art.”

The artist-dealer pointed to one small piece around her neck, “This little figurine was made especially for me by Giacometti,” she declared. “You are familiar of course with his very latest style of skinny concentration-camp figurines, cast in gold?” (8)

“And this one — a cast that Marcel Duchamp made of his wife’s vagina.” She fingered a gold and red ruby construction, about eight inches long. (9) “And this — just a penis pierced by an arrow. It’s pretty, though, isn’t it? Contemporary, by someone unfamous, but I love it just the same.”

I could read the look in Mistress Anita’s eye: What a beautiful derriere on this Jew-thing she was clearly thinking, and How would it feel to strip off the sparkling golden tinsel of her skirt, search with my fingers that Rubenesque flesh? Here is a masterpiece sculpted in filet mignon, created for my fantasy.

But an educated, civilized person must be disciplined enough to maintain self-control, and my Mistress is all of that. She was in an excellent mood, and had shed her official academic composure. She opened her desk drawer, and said happily, “I have something creative to show you.”

She removed several of her prized artefacts, arraying them on her desk.

“A clump of Auschwitz hair, in the original box,” she explained to Miss Polanitzer. (10) “And here are bones, ground down meticulously to the finest gravel — genuine leftovers from the concentration camp’s pits.” She ran her fingers through the sand, “The texture of these grains gives away their precious provenance.” (11)

She then pulled out a spoon, a very regular spoon, primitively fashioned. “You know the Nazis did not provide for spoons in the camps. Kommandant Koch gave this to me when I was a young girl, studying in Germany. I met him in a bar…” (12)

Here Anita interrupted herself, “You are of the Israelitic persuasion, aren’t you?“ she asked her guest.

“Of course I am,” replied Miss Polanitzer eagerly.

“Perhaps it isn’t pleasant for you to look at these items. But it is Art — your field — or at least, artefacts.”

“It certainly is,” but she seemed a bit confused. “I’ve always been devoted to Art, since I was a little girl. It might sound blasphemous, but I think these relics are not just Art. I think they are erotic. Yes definitely, I feel it!” (13)

“Come here to my desk,” Anita whispered to the dealer. She is in a poetical and declamatory frame of mind, “Enlighten me about the life of Art, as it is really lived. Its tentacles, its roots, its clutching vines entwined in the wild hair of cave-men… reaching out and choking the modern, civilized man, if not the entire civilized world itself.”

Anita surely knows how to choose her words, when it suits her.

“I trade exclusively in dead artists,” Miss Polanitzer said hastily, “or almost popped-off specimens. I like to get in and out, swiftly, but I am not a vulture. And I’m no slave-keeper, like you.”

Anita queen-like ignored this insult. “Well, then — what can I do for you today?”

“Sell me your Art creation, ‘The Judy,’ Miss Hannah said this in straightforward determination. “I will pay a good price.”

“How much?” Anita asked, then stopped herself, “Well, I must think about it.

“There are certain personal, ethical and financial questions involved. Also, artistic, you see — I love ‘The Judy,’ in a way. Not as a person, of course, but as an Art creation.” (14)

Hannah Polanitzer adopted a casual tone, completely at ease with Anita, now that they were at the point of negotiation: “All of Madison Avenue is trying to figure out how to deal this sculpture of yours. It will fall into someone’s lap — why not mine?”

Anita gave no response. At that point, the artist-dealer cannot help but bring up the subject of the image of Adolf Hitler, prominently displayed on the office wall.

“How can you live with that,” she asked, gathering the loosely hanging fur coat around her neck, as if she was feeling a chill. She moved her gilded fingers along her thigh, rubbing it gently, first on the outer side, then on the inner, her other hand fingering her many gold neck-chains.

Anita replied modestly, “To me, this picture of Hitler is merely an expression of our age. You cannot deny he fashioned the world we now live in. He is therefore Art.”

“But you Miss Polanitzer, being of the Israelithonic persuasion, (15) loving the avant-garde, which Hitler belonged to, whether you like it, or not — you cannot help but try to block out his influence on the Arts.

“Still, see how he excites you physically.” (16)

Anita was watching, with a steely look, the progress of the woman’s hands along her body. She has forgotten herself, the artist-dealer has, to the extent that she gently fondles the black silk blouse above her breasts, inserting her fingers into the opening.

Her skirt is lifted up, her fingers caress the snow-white skin inside her thighs. She reaches over the peak of her blue panties, across the dark hollow of her sex, and finally speaks:

“Hitler and the extermination of the Jews,” her fingers pressing down on the slip-slap of her crotch, “in my imagination, I grew up with this terror. I always felt that one day they would come for me too.

“Not that I like Jews particularly. Can’t stand them, really. But I can’t assimilate either. Wouldn’t dream of sleeping with a Christian man.”

“And a Christian woman?” Anita interjected. But Miss Polanitzer skipped over that, and smacked her lips, loudly and provocatively, her mouth full of spit and overflowing. She gazed directly, but submissively into Anita’s eyes and spit out,

“Jewish men. They think they are God’s gift. All cock, in their minds. Disgusting and ugly. Disgusting, it stinks. Contradictory, don’t you think?

“But it’s only in contradiction that there’s greatness. Um, I think I’ll take you up on that drink.”

“Daughter dear,” said Mistress Anita, “you ought to examine the manner in which your pretty lips form the English tongue. Your language is, how shall we say, debased, vulgar, and jarring on the ears.”

“And yours,” retorts Miss Polanitzer, “isn’t even language. It drips off the page of a dried-out text. If my English is not English, who cares? No one talks like you but fakers.

“Meanwhile my tongue is the language of the real avant-garde in America, the Renaissance of Mameloshen.” (17)

“On the contrary,” Anita declaimed quietly, “the deplorable conditions around us are precisely why we should cultivate our language, elevate, it, improve it constantly, hone it sharp as a dagger.”

“And who is it you’re going to stab, with that dagger of yours?” retorted Miss Polanitzer, “Your slaves? You think I don’t know what goes on in your mind, Madame? You act as if you, all by yourself, fight the battle for civilization and culture. Hell, I’m way ahead of you. I stimulate the flowers! I tickle them, so they grow fast, and big. And then I cut them down.

“I distribute beauty to the people,” she ended lamely, and began to rub the seam of her skirt deliciously. “I fill my stomach with greenbacks, and Art and Beauty too, to help the greenbacks go down easier.

“I am an American, you see. Not like these anarchists or socialists. While they talk themselves blue in the face, I worship the dollar.

“The dollar wipes everything away, magically. Both past, and present.”


Footnotes & Commentary

(1) Artist-Dealer. In his mss., Lurie now and then mentions this character as an ‘art-dealer,’ which is a commonplace, but more often writes ‘artist-dealer,’ which implies the lady deals in the persons themselves, and not only their works.

As per our thematic, she is therefore equivalent to Hitler’s minions, an SS officer or adjunct — someone who uses human beings (Jews, artists) inhumanly.

(2) Hannah Polanitzer. Who might be the original for Miss Polanitzer is still a subject for research; powerful female art-dealers in the 1960s and 70s include Ileana Sonnabend, Peggy Guggenheim, and Paula Cooper.

(3) Andre Malraux, Tristan Tzara, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso. We have Mistress Anita as both a defined friend, and member of avant-garde artistic society. Andre Malraux (1901-1976) was a writer, art theorist, and Minister of Cultural Affairs in France. Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) was a writer, poet, and all-round literary polywog; his ‘Manifest Dada” read at Cabaret Voltaire in 1918, a seminal moment in the history of Dada. Stantion MacDonald Wright, (1890-1973), was a modern American artist. He was a co-founder of Synchromism, an early abstract, color-based mode of painting, the first American avant-garde art movement to receive international attention. Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso require no footnotes.

(4) President Kennedy. Robert. Edward? This query places us squarely in the early 1960s, before the assassinations of both Jack and Robert. This may be a slight cut to the famous womanizing of the Kennedys as well. How would they know Mistress Anita, except as her subjects?

(5) Feldmarschall Rommel. Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel of the German Afrika Corps was a handsome man and a popular hero during WWII. He was apparently outstanding in not being a vicious Nazi. Orders to kill Jewish soldiers, civilians and captured commandos were ignored. Later in the war, Rommel was linked to the conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler. Because he was a national hero, Hitler in that aftermath desired to eliminate him quietly. The Feldmarschall was forced to commit suicide with a cyanide pill; his cause of death was written up as a heart attack.

(6) Trotsky. Siqueiros. Leon Trotsky, famous Bolshevik (1879-1940) and David Alfaro Siqueiros, (1896-1974). In perverse style, Anita apparently befriended both the famous Bolshevik, and his murder-attemptee.

Anita’s influence is shown to be broad-ranging and eclectic — Nazis, Bolsheviks, painters and American presidents, they’ve all passed through the House and knelt at her feet.

(7) Joseph Goebbels. Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates and most devoted followers, he was known for his zealous orations, and deep and virulent antisemitism. He strongly supported the extermination of the Jews when the Nazi leadership developed their Endlosung der Judenfrage — the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

Anita seems to have a special fondness for him, irked that Miss Polanitzer doesn’t know his proper first name. Goebbels’ physiognomy was cadaverous, drawn and uncanny. To possess a framed portrait of such a man shows Mistress Anita’s aesthetic to be more than brutal.

In an unpublished chapter of ‘House’ the character of Geldpayer shows up briefly, with Lurie referring to him as ‘a Goebbels’ — in his function as a Minister of Propaganda for the New York art world.

Ref.: “My Part in Germany’s Fight,” by Joseph Goebbels, his diaries, published in English 1940, Hurst & Blackett Ltd., London. Describing the March 1933 boycott of Jews: “Generosity does not impress the Jews. One has to show them that one is equal to anything.”

(8) Concentration-camp figurines. Work of the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966.) He would have been alive throughout the Shoah, so this assessment of his subject matter is scurrilous. Viz. also Footnote #1, Chapter 39: the German word for a doll is ‘figuren,’ one of the camp euphemisms for ‘corpse.’

(9) Marcel Duchamp’s wife. Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp had been married to Pierre Matisse and was the daughter-in-law of Henri Matisse the painter. She was active in the New York and Paris art scenes at this time.

(10) Auschwitz hair. Original box. Parody on the language of the collector. What this might be in Lurie’s imagination — or might have actually been — is horrific to consider. But then of course that is Lurie’s intention.

“The Auschwitz Museum has decided not to conserve one thing: the two-ton mass of human hair that fills a vast vitrine. Over the years, the hair has lost its individual colors and has begun to gray. Out of respect for the dead, it cannot be photographed. Several years ago, the International Auschwitz Council of advisers had an agonizing debate about the hair. Some suggested burying it. Others wanted to conserve it. But one adviser raised a point: How can we know if its original owners are dead or alive? Who are we to determine its fate?

“It was decided to let the hair decay, on its own, in the vitrine, until it turns to dust.”


(11) Genuine leftovers. The infamous gravel from the crematoria ovens, which was sold and used for fertilizer throughout the Reich.

Ref.: Holocaust Handbook,, See Chapter 10. Excavations and Archaeological Findings

(12) Spoon. Kommandant Koch. That such a life-giving implement in the camps as a spoon would be playfully given to a pretty girl as a souvenir… Lurie’s vocabulary of humiliation seems infinite.

“…debilitating sensation of impotence and destitution was produced during the first days of imprisonment by the lack of a spoon… Without a spoon, the daily soup could not be consumed in any other way, other than by lapping it like dogs do… One discovered there were spoons in the camp but one had to buy them on the black market.. And yet, when the camp was liberated, we found… tens of thousands of spoons, steel, even silver ones that came from the luggage of deportees. So it was not a matter of thrift, but a precise intent to humiliate.”

Ref.: Primo Levi, from The Drowned and the Saved, p. 114. Vintage International Books, 1989.

On August 1, 1937, SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl-Otto Koch was given command of the new concentration camp at Buchenwald. He remained at Buchenwald until September 1941, when he was transferred due to an investigation based on allegations of his improper conduct at Buchenwald — which included corruption, fraud, embezzlement, drunkenness, sexual offenses and a murder. He possesses the distinction of having been executed by the Nazis themselves for his flagrant abuses.

Curious detail we do not meet with again is Anita being a “young girl,” a student in Germany in the 1940s. That would make her about forty to fifty years of age, and a German-speaker.

(13) Blasphemous… relics… erotic. If one sentence is absolutely the paradigm concept for House of Anita, it would be this one.

It DOES sound blasphemous, but THIS relic, this book, is not just Art. We KNOW… it is erotic.

(14) Not as a person. Of course, ‘The Judy,’ though alive, to Anita is not a person and, it seems, just about ‘popped-off.’ The market in buying and selling works of Art treats the Artists’ bodies not so differently.

(15) Israelithonic. Lurie likes to employ various suffixes to ‘Israel-‘ when describing Jews. Earlier he uses ‘-itic,’ and here ‘-thonic,’ derived from the Greek kthon, which means ‘earth’ — so would signify a salt-of-the-earth Jew.

(16) He excites you physically. It can be imagined that in his ‘prime’ Adolph Hitler was, in charismatic mode, an erotic ikon for at least some of the German female population. Unfortunately for those individual women who did attempt to have a sexual relationship with him, they often ended up dead.

Ref.: The Seven Suicide Maidens, from “Explaining Hitler,” by Ron Rosenbaum… in progress.

(17) Mameloshen. Yiddish for “Mother tongue.” Miss Polanitzer is making a case for a resurgence in Judaic pride, which Anita slaps down.

“On the eve of the Holocaust, around 67 percent of world Jewry spoke Yiddish… in the five years that followed, the thriving lingua franca of around 11 million Jews was almost wiped out. There is no official agreement about the worldwide number of Yiddish speakers today, but recent estimates of around two million stand in stark contrast to the prewar figures, a chilling testimony to the almost total annihilation of Europe’s Jews in the Shoah.

“The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 secured Hebrew as the new Jewish lingua franca. In contrast to Yiddish, the vernacular of the Eastern European shtetl, Hebrew was the language of the tough new Jewish man and woman, the brave soldiers of the IDF, the glorious pioneers who built a new Hebrew city on the sands outside Jaffa.”





Footnotes & Commentary
Terence Sellers, 2015