A few weeks ago, we met an old friend for dinner who had recently lost his wife of sixty years. When we’d called to tell him we’d heard the news and to offer anything — to bring him food, come by to give him a hug, take him out to dinner — THAT’S what he said he wanted: to have a good dinner, a cocktail or two, be out in the world. Somehow he snagged a last-minute reservation at a very good restaurant at the height of Christmas season. We arrived to find him wearing a button that said “I don’t know”.
He said he’d started wearing the button after so many people asked him what he was going to do now that Martha had passed away. His answer, which he seemed at one with, was simply “I don’t know“, and the button, like a tiny, powerful piece of conceptual art, stated the heart of the matter: There were no answers to be had. It was simply how things were, and were going to be for a while.
He had been given the button by a friend of the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge who is married to the artist Richard Tuttle. Berssenbrugge had some “I Don’t Know” buttons made for the opening of his exhibition “I Don’t Know The Weave of Textile Language”. A poet, she knew the resonance of those three words and how radical a statement it is in a culture that deeply values control, and having answers.
We admire our dear friend for living with not knowing, and for affirming this most common, often uncomfortable, fact of living through his subtly-radical signage.