Many Leonards Not Natman, artist book, 2009
Hanging just inside the door of this quiet reception room off BAM's grand lobby, is an oil painting for which the room is named: "The Leonard Natman Room". As though not to interfere with the grandiosity of the BAM spaces, the friendly informal gaze of the person depicted in this painting is oddly antithetical to the characteristic formality of being represented by an oil painting - an oddness magnified by the little I could find out about Natman: Leonard Natman had worked at BAM as house manager, had developed a youth education program during his years here, and had died of AIDS in 1986.
The distinct physical presence of the oil painting, with its subject's unassuming modesty, prompted a search on Google to find out more. I was looking for a prouder image, something that says THIS IS MY ROOM! But my search for Leonard Natman resulted in "0" images. What was I thinking? Natman died in 1986. There was no internet to speak of, and certainly there were no social networks on it.
Another search on www.howmanyofme.com gave me these results: "There are 286,580 people in the U.S. with the first name Leonard; There are 1 or fewer people in the U.S. named Leonard Natman."
Leonard Natman's lack of digital presence on the Internet provides the ultimate contrast to the existence of the singular material object representing him at BAM. In its physical insistence, the painting is secure - you can touch it, move it around, it will be where it is until someone physically picks it up and moves it somewhere else. (As far as I know, this painting is not reproduced - you can only view it at BAM.) But in relation to all the ephemeral atomized ubiquitous multiple digital presences online, this painting seems sadly lonely in its immutable material singularity.
In a kind of mournful compulsion to provide my new subject with companionship, I collected the thumbnail images from the 15,000,000 results of a Google image search for "Leonard" (without "Natman"), and printed 100 of them as 8x10 theatrical headshot photos. Some are famous (Leonard Nimoy, Leonard Slatkin, Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Cohen), most are anonymous. Hung across from the painting, Leonards For Leonard is a conversation between the digital Leonards and the oil painting Leonard - the many Leonards keeping Leonard company.