Bad Art

 

Officer Mike Sapienti was first to 10-97 (arrive on scene) at the Zephyr’s downtown, retro apartment as dusk squeezed out the day’s last breath leaving the sky bruised like a 21958 (drunk pedestrian) on an autobahn. Fortune had placed him just three streets down as the static call was dispatched which jolted him so that he was forced to 480 (hit and run) his bacon Royale, a guilty pleasure for which, most days, he’d have surrendered his badge.
He took the stairs and, despite being in uniform, entered unnoticed, gingerly using the skeleton key which had clung lifelessly to his belt eight good years since graduation, closing the door with a cautious exhale.
They’d finally taken the bastard down and he was as 10-45D as a doornail. It all seemed somehow surreal. Eleven grinding months of six day weeks. The code 5 (stakeout) was finally over and the working women of the fractious, grey city could once again resume their nocturnal enterprises with a cold sense of comfort.
Backup was frantically code 3-ing toward the scene (with lights and sirens), but given rush hour’s defiance would take some time to arrive. Officer Sapienti felt a vaguely troubling sense of privilege and entitlement, enjoying a quiet moment in the killer’s lair. He’d, after all, almost single handedly Horatio’d the investigation. Provided he gloved up and nothing was disturbed there’d be no harm in having a quick, sticky beak. The apartment was a studio really, a compact one at that leaving not much out of arm’s reach. A small desk lamp lit the room to a grainy Rembrandt glow, just enough to pry about yet not enough to attract attention. As was expected the place was disturbingly neat in keeping with the Zephyr’s meticulously cultivated profile. Decor? Minimalist. On the corner desk was a leather folio, black. Surely nothing highly 10-36, not just lying exposed with such casual audacity?

He stared at the photos in astonished disbelief. He knew each of them by name, their families, their friends, their lifestyles, their secrets. So many months 10-57 (missing) and now here, individually posed, each in an chilling portrait. Whether the victims were taken to be modelled or whether the photo’s were secondary to the kill was anyone’s guess. He had expected to uncover just about anything in the soon to be infamous apartment thirteen. Anything, but this. Fact was, these were like nothing the young officer had ever before witnessed. Not because the subjects were, well, without being indelicate, stone 10-45D. Rather because the brilliant glossy images were simply … perfection. Original went without saying, but the quality! The composition, the depth of field, the colour saturation, the masterful skill and painstaking detail were all simply breathtaking. They were captivating, bold, and God willing, unique!
The detective immediately recognised that what he held between his chalky, latex fingers was so much more than evidence. It was art, and at that, the very best he had seen.

Mike, born Michelangelo Sapienti , a fact never revealed for fear of becoming the brunt of every precinct party gag, was the son of an established curator. Despite having traded one academy for another and opted inexplicably for a life of service, he had a well trained eye and the utmost respect for the preservation of art.
This left him with a massive moral dilemma and little time to investigate his options.

One, turn the photo’s in to evidence knowing that they’d be filed away for years and subsequently destroyed.
Two, keep the pictures hidden safely away, admired by none, but at least in tact. Eleven months of backbreaking slog had turned over more than enough physical evidence to guarantee a posthumous conviction, and DNA lab would take care of the rest. The absence of the photos would hardly be of consequence.
Three, anonymously send the collection to his father in the hopes that they somehow would find their way to public exhibition to be appreciated, if nothing more, for their faultless execution. The girls had been tauntingly posed in prosaic public locations with such subtle finesse that even the most observant of buffs would fail to pick their lifelessness and whatever misguided social statement the artist was making… and besides, the Gallery was in a world away in the wrong part of London making it unlikely they’d ever be recognised. In a twisted way they’d even be immortalised, which was perhaps the artist’s intention, without condoning of course.
Four, destroy them. If he couldn’t have them no-one could, and besides, knowing that these sublime masterpieces were stuffed in a cardboard box in a government evidence locker was sure to drive him completely 5150. (You guessed it….police code for a crack-monkey mental case.)
And five…well, five simply wasn’t an option.

Officer Sapienti had but minutes to make a decision.

OK, if the tacky tale of the Zephyr killer was a hopeful TV pilot, it would doubtless lie mangled on the cutting floor, fatally slashed and lined in chalk. But this is not it’s purpose. It’s really just a playful scenario thrown out to explore an issue or two. As a civilised society of, we’d like to think, reasonable people, we have developed an insatiable appetite for all things “creative” and “explorative”. There is a diverse and bountiful harvest out there which stretches to the very boundaries of social acceptance, and rightfully a touch beyond, as artists persistently push against convention in order to stimulate social progress, mostly for the greater good. We expect our creative citizens to be imbued with exceptional qualities. Talent and passion, naturally. Ability, sure. Skill and experience, definitely. Intellect, certainly. But what if an artist exceeds all criteria in the absence of moral virtue? Perhaps if we focus on the art as opposed to the artist, if a particular body of work is outstanding in its execution but reprehensible in its message, does that make it any less art than that which we embrace? We could also ask how tolerant we, as a market, ought to be in the face of work that is excessively controversial or offensive and if this prerogative is really ours to have? When does political correctness become censorship in a world where we strive for freedom of expression? Ultimately, at what point is good art so bad that it’s no longer considered art? Some would argue that art should have no limits, but empowering people with a responsibility so immense could well be an epic scale trust-fall!

It was a good idea to take the train home. The ferocious traffic had hardly abated and it was getting kinda late. It seemed he was not alone in his stroke of genius. The carriage was close to rupture with not a lonely seat in sight, apart from the one next to the homeless guy. As he looked drowsily about, he became aware of the commuters around him, the frazzled mother with a squirming Snow Queen Elsa on her lap, the blissed out teen couple snogging obliviously at the back, the sheepish grey suit on the elderly seat feeling noticeably awkward…but clearly not awkward enough. He smiled to himself as he was pleased. Pleased as Lance Armstrong after he’d claimed his forth Tour, snagged Cheryl Crow and produced yet another clean urine sample. Very pleased. The threat of the Zephyr had already begun to lift, and he, Officer Michelangelo Sapienti, may even be a shoe in for a promotion. He was most pleased, however, that on that particular night, he would sleep like the 10-45D, being almost as good as seventy-six percent sure he had done the right thing.

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