You have to wonder just how far mega-rich contemporary art buyers are willing to go to satisfy their acquisitiveness. Last week, an anonymous bidder (now identified as a member of the Qatari royal family) paid the staggering sum of $142 million for a work of art at Christie’s in New York City. The coveted painting was a triptych entitled Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by Dublin-born master of angst Francis Bacon. The sale now holds the record for highest amount paid for a work of art at auction, ousting Edvard Munch’s The Scream from the top spot.
We could argue about the merits of the Bacon work in relation to the money spent on it until we’re blue in the face, but I think we all know that such hangwringing, astonishment – even disgust in some cases – are utterly besides the point. Is there absurdity and excess in the art market? Of course there is. But this is about commerce, nothing more. Qatar is preparing to open a national art museum in 2016, and the Bacon triptych will likely be one of the standouts in its collection. I get it. Heck it’s their money and they can do with it whatever they want. I guess we can take some comfort in the fact that at least it wasn’t a Damien Hirst.
Putting aside the $142 million purchase price, I would point out that the Bacon is a triptych, and a large one at that, which makes it substantial. And I have no doubt that the subject being Lucian Freud, the revered British painter who himself is a darling of art collectors, had everything to do with the work’s sought-after reputation. It’s hard to imagine that the piece would have fetched $142 mil if Bacon had painted his mailman. Honestly, I don’t find the “painter does a painting of another painter” thing inherently interesting, but maybe that’s just my model’s bias talking 😉 Regardless, Bacon and Freud were good friends so I suppose it’s an affectionate tribute, twisted caricature-like quality notwithstanding.
I’m sure most of us understand, and accept, that the big money art market is far removed from the art world the rest of us understand and inhabit. Ours is the world of searching for beauty, expression, transcendence, emotional depth and spiritual uplift in drawings, paintings, and sculpture. Lucky for us, those qualities can be found in a multitude of places, down the line from the Old Masters to the Modernists and perhaps even on your neighbor’s pad in life drawing class. Of course we are moved individually, subjectively, personally. Doesn’t it all just boil down to taste in the end? I know people who would be happy never seeing a Picasso again for the rest of their lives. I also know people who dismiss the French Impressionists as creators of mere “pretty pictures”. We all respond to different things. Some value simplicity and elegance. Others value rich composition and color. Some prefer form over content, or vice-versa. Many are partial to landscapes over nudes, realism over abstraction, technique and skill over aesthetic appeal. To each his own as they say.
So my question to my readers is this: if money was no object and you could have in your possession ANY work of art – a work you genuinely love, that moves you, pleases you, that will hang on your wall for you to see every day – what would it be? Consider all the options – style, artist, technique, subject matter, medium. I’m confident I can speak for my mother in that her choice would be a Degas drawing or pastel. As for me, I can’t decide! It wouldn’t be a Francis Bacon I can tell you that. A painting by Edward Hopper is definitely high on my list. I surely wouldn’t turn down a drawing by Raphael or a watercolor by John Singer Sargent or an etching by Rembrandt. I’m very interested to hear your choices so please share.
Right now what I wouldn’t mind hanging on my wall is a summer beach scene to remind me of warmer days. It’s gettin’ cold man. Winter, ugh.
To The Water by Joaquin Sorolla, 1902. Ahh, beach 🙂