Charles Guice's Top Ten

Charles Guice is an art dealer and the director of Charles Guice Contemporary.

"I’ve had dinner with my share of luminaries and newsmakers—from artists and choreographers to writers and musicians—but I’ve always had a secret list of unfulfilled dinner dates. In my “past life” as a corporate hack, I’d sometimes have to facilitate meetings, and began using this list at the time (then comprised only of the top three) as an icebreaker. At first, I’d suggest people living or dead—at least until the time someone told me he’d like to have dinner with his twin, stillborn children. But think of it as your own “my dinner with Andre;” the chance to sit down for two or three hours with someone who fascinates you and whose company you truly believe you’d enjoy. Then, in this era of six degrees of separation, figure out just how many degrees you are away. I was never able to bring anyone together, but just imagine how much fun it would be if you could."

10. Paul Krugman

When Paul Krugman began writing for The New York Times, I can honestly say I became interested in economics. Krugman’s columns, on subjects ranging from taxes to foreign policy, were required reading for me, and he was, by far and large, the only person whose opposition against the Iraq invasion I gave any credence. That Krugman supported Hillary Clinton is another matter, but if we could simply skip discussing that one topic, a two-hour dinner would likely be far too short a time.

9. Ron Santo

Being a Chicagoan, I’m a life-long Chicago Cubs fan and, aside from Ernie Banks, no one player represents everything I remember about the team from the year I cherish most—1969. Although the Cubs would eventually lose to the Mets after leading the Central Division through that August, I’d race home from school to watch as many games as I possibly could. I loved going to Wrigley, and even at an early age held little regard for the lowly White Sox, who played on the city’s South Side. You can hear Santo doing the play-by-play on the radio broadcasts these days, and I’d rather listen to him than watch the television broadcast. For me, dinner with “This Old Cub” would make up for all the years the team has never made it into the World Series.

8. Pedro Almodóvar

Suffice it to say, my beliebte filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is long dead now, so I’m onto my second favorite, Pedro Almodóvar. From Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and High Heels to All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Volver, his works continually rank as some of my most favorite films. My Spanish surely isn’t up to the type of in-depth conversation I’d truly like to have—I know he speaks English—but I’m sure I’d make do, even if I had to rely simply on pantomime.

7. Dawn Upshaw

If you don’t know who Dawn Upshaw is, you’d only have to hear her sing once to remember. One of two sopranos on my list (see Cecilia Bartoli below), Upshaw was named as a MacArthur Fellow in 2007. Unlike many performers who I will typically hear only once or twice, I’ve heard Upshaw perform numerous times. She’s also from Northern Illinois, and since we’re not too far apart in age, I’ve always wondered if we’d ever bumped into one another when I lived there. Listen to Knoxville, Summer of 1915 or Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3. Of course, a dinner with Upshaw would only be complete if she sang for her supper.

6. Jessye Norman

When I met Jessye Norman, albeit briefly during an autograph signing, I didn’t consider myself to be much of an opera fan. My mother had wanted to become an opera singer, and it may be because I was routinely dragged to hear classical music and taken to the opera—most likely when I was too young—that I thought I couldn’t like anything resembling the operatic voice. But Gustav Mahler’s Song Cycles and choral symphonies would change this opinion forever and, later, Norman’s recording of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs (Vier Letzte Lieder), at least for me, became the gold standard for this work. But my taste, at the time, was limited to operatic singing, and my true love for opera, unfortunately, would come some time after we would meet. So when Norman urged me to come to the San Francisco Opera where she was performing that evening, I promised her that I would but never went. It was my loss. Now I consider her to be one of the greatest voices of our time, and to be able to talk with her over a quiet dinner would be one of life’s greatest gifts.

5. Björk

Many people remember Björk as the dark-haired, diminutive singer who wore the outrageous swan dress to the Oscars in 2001. But I’ve followed Björk since her days with the Sugarcubes, and own almost every album she’s released since. Her first and only acting role, as Selma in Dancer in the Dark, was—in her own words—her last, yet when I saw it, the same man who had laughed aloud when she first began to sing in this Lars von Trier musical, was audibly sobbing by the end. I love her voice. All Is Full of Love? Violently Happy? Perhaps, too, Possibly Maybe, Pagan Poetry, or Stick Around for Joy. I could listen to these over and over, and have more times than I can count. But it was in an interview where she spoke on the existence of faeries that I knew I’d gladly spend an hour or two to talk with her.

4. Kate Winslet

I wasn’t going to add any actors to this list. Actors are continually in the limelight, and very few truly seem interesting beyond the celluloid screen. Add to that, while I’ll admit to having a number of favorites, how do you narrow it to just one or two? Then I realized that there are a select few that I’d see almost any film for, and Winslet tops the list. My Winslet crush is one of my guilty pleasures—I’ve been a fan since Titanic, and have seen everything she’s done since including, dare I admit, The Holiday. Oddly enough, I could barely watch her in Sense and Sensibility. Who, I remember thinking at the time, was that awkward teenager, and why was she ever cast in that otherwise entertaining film? But by Hideous Kinky, Iris, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I was thoroughly hooked and a sucker for all things Winslet—and happily report that I still am.

3. Cecilia Bartoli

If you’ve never heard of a mezzo-soprano, or struggle to remember the name of any opera without wincing, listen to Bartoli’s 1992 release, If You Love Me (Se tu m’ami). Bartoli had her U.S. debut in Berkeley, and I was actually on my way to hear Dawn Upshaw when I noticed the announcement for that first Bartoli concert the following week. Vowing never to be swayed again by “a pretty face”—the last time I did was by Sheena Easton—I didn’t go. My mistake; it took years just get a ticket after the reviews from that first concert. In the intervening years, I planned trips to New York and Austria to hear her, even in the dead of summer. When I finally did have a chance to hear her—this after actually meeting her during an autograph signing—I sat in the second row (the first row was empty) with Bartoli literally standing directly in front of me the entire concert. According to Bonnie, the friend who called the night before with an extra ticket and rescuing me from “the boonies” where my original seat was, I scarcely breathed until the intermission. I think I’m still holding my breath.

2. Barack Obama

As with actors, I hadn’t planned to add any politicians to my list, but this is due more to the fact that there aren’t as many that I’d want to spend a meal with, and not because there are so many that I consider to be my favorites. Like him or not, Barack Obama has changed the political landscape in the U.S. His speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention almost brought tears to my eyes, and his speech on ethnicity in February did. Like many, I was a little unsure about him when I first heard him speak in person in early 2007, and had actually planned to vote for Clinton. But I feel an excitement about the future of this country in a way that I never have, and it is his candidacy that has done that for me. For all intents and purposes, I’m only one degree away from Obama. My friend, Tim, went to Occidental with Obama. But when they ran into each other years later in Chicago, neither could remember how they knew one another. Too bad; that’s one marker I’d surely call in.

1. Arundhati Roy

Roy wrote the novel, The God of Small Things but is arguably better known now as an activist. I actually met her shortly after her book was awarded the Booker Prize—and virtually alone—but was too nervous at the time to engage in more than a brief conversation. Yet as much of a fan I am of Roy’s book, it is her “activist” leanings that draw me to her most. For it was from Roy that I first learned of Enron—years before its subsequent financial collapse—and the extent to which multinationals have wrought havoc in Africa, India, and Central and South America. I don’t always agree with her politics; during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, her voice was one of the many that I mistakenly “tuned out.” But Roy has been at the top of this list for years, and will likely remain there for many more to come.