My wife and I attended a cocktail party the other afternoon at the Hollywood Roosevelt swimming pool to celebrate a minor triumph of art over bureaucracy. More accurately, it was a triumph of bureaucracy over itself.
The issue was the bottom of the swimming pool, which had been decorated a few months ago by the British artist David Hockney. Being a Hollywood booster, Hockney had come to the pool one morning early with a few cans of blue paint and a broom, or some similar kind of painting implement.
In four hours, working at the bottom of the empty pool, he had covered it with symbols variously described as squiggles, caterpillars, slugs, commas, apostrophes and parentheses. Each was exactly like the other, and they covered the pool in an interconnected, basket-like pattern.
The result, when you looked into the filled pool of still water, was a vast spread of large blue parentheses, commas, or whatever. But when someone dived in, disturbing the water, all the commas seemed to come to life, weaving and dancing and shimmering.
Naturally, the Roosevelt was delighted to have Hockney's work on the bottom of its pool, since he has suddenly become the darling of two continents (at least), and his recent retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art drew record crowds.
Hockney's work is not easy for a Philistine to describe: but it is fresh, bold, original, vivid, imaginative, sometimes splashy, sometimes abstract and usually very colorful. He seems to be crazy about the sunny L.A. landscape, and is especially good at painting swimming pools. So it was a feather in the Roosevelt's cap to have an original Hockney, so to speak, on the bottom of its pool, an ornament that seemed to symbolize the hotel's recent modernization.
Joy soon turned to gloom when county officials noted that the painting violated state safety rules, which require that the bottoms of pools be unadorned, and ordered the Hockney squiggles removed or painted over.
Paul Golis of Thousand Oaks memorialized the situation with an epic poem, from which I have his permission to quote:
In California it was the written rule
You cannot punctuate the bottom of a pool
With swimming parentheses
Or giant apostrophes
Or posturing periods or carefree commas
Oh, no, no, not a single one if you please.
It came to pass,
A talented Cockney,
Named David Hockney,
Painted not one, not two,
But several pair.
Fact is, his punctuation marks were everywhere.
An art dealer, however, pointed out to the lawmakers that Hockney's underwater work, if it could be sold, would be worth perhaps $1 million. It was a galvanizing thought. City Councilman Michael Woo urged Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) to use his influence on the Legislature; Roos wrote a bill exempting the Roosevelt pool from the state law; it was passed, and Gov. George Deukmejian signed it into law.
Friday afternoon's party was a celebration of this victory. It was an affair that Hockney himself might well have painted. Pretty women in chic dresses; casual young men; movers and shakers; Woo, Roos and of course, Hockney himself, who wore a large polka-dot tie with a striped shirt.
Waiters moved among these beautiful people with trays of champagne in bubbling flutes; a buffet table was loaded with hors d'oeuvres and fruit; the sky was sunny and clear, and nobody went in the water.
Roos made a graceful speech, noting that the Legislature, in its wisdom, had spared the Hockney pool for Hollywood, the Roosevelt Hotel and posterity; Woo, wearing a necktie that might have been painted by Hockney himself, also spoke briefly and modestly of the day's triumph, and Hockney was made to get down on his knees and plant his hands in a square of wet cement.
As Golis concludes:
So today because of Councilman Woo
And State Assemblyman you-know-who
You can swim at the HollywoodRoosevelt Hotel
While admiring its beautiful art as well
So tie on your bikini; don your shorts
Forget life's worries and its warts
And, as you hobnob with the high muck-a-mucks
You can dive into a pool worth a million bucks!
Hooray for Hollywood!