IF you didn’t know where to look, you might never notice the 100-square-foot storefront gallery on East 88th Street near Second Avenue, even though it has been there for a decade. In the window lies a diminutive homemade coffin bearing an enormous artillery shell and a tombstone inscribed with the word “Whoever.” The walls of the space, which is called Gallery 221, are papered with scores of laminated obituaries, which have been clipped from The Economist magazine.
“They’re precise,” said Michael Brod, the gallery’s owner and the creator of the installation. “I like the uniformity of them. To be able to encapsulate a life in a thousand words, and to do such an eloquent job, it’s very democratic.”
Mr. Brod, a tall, dark-haired 67-year-old, was until last spring a man of high finance on Wall Street. In the early 1980s, he left his life as a potter and a poet in California after receiving a phone call from his weeping father in New York, whose fifth wife had just died.
Mr. Brod had not set eyes on the man since his parents separated when he was an infant, yet he traveled east to see him. Seduced by the life of Wall Street, Mr. Brod spent 10 years at his father’s stock brokerage firm. Art was relegated to Plan B.
During that time, father and son shared an office, seated at opposite ends of a long walnut conference table. Mr. Brod also discovered that he, like his father, was good at finance, and in 1986, his father handed him the reins of the firm. He left in 1992 to work first at a brokerage company, then as an independent consultant.
“What I liked about Wall Street,” Mr. Brod said, “was that it’s full of manic-depressives. There are a lot of artists who are manic-depressive. And there’s a lot of creative people in Wall Street.”
It was not the downward spiral of the economy that drove Mr. Brod a year ago to go back to work full time at the gallery he owned and where he had occasionally worked in the evening. Instead, it was a recent birthday, along with his growing collection of obituaries and a desire to lead a life that seemed to have more value than one devoted to crunching numbers.
“The point of the Street wasn’t me trying to get rich,” Mr. Brod said. “It was me trying to figure out who I was.”
The other day, Mr. Brod stood at the window of the gallery, assembling the words of a poem in crisp, adhesive letters on the glass in preparation for the opening of his funereal installation on May 12.
“Whoever on the road,” the poem reads. “Whoever still traveling. Whoever says whatever. Whoever is dead. Long live whoever.”