Art, anyone?

I learned recently that Edvard Munch’s painting entitled The Scream (1893) sold at auction for $120 million, give or take $20 thousand or so. The most ever paid for a painting, I hear. Amazing. Have you seen this piece? Well, pardon my bourgeois opinion, but that painting looks like the work of a second grader using finger paints while off his ADHD meds. This is how USA Today describes it: “The image of a man holding his head and screaming under a streaked, blood-red sky.” That’s pretty much spot-on. Granted, it is genuinely famous. Many of you are probably aware that this painting was the inspiration for Ghostface’s mask in Wes Craven’s similarly titled horror movie Scream, back in 1996, among other things. That should push up the price, ay? These art auctions often remind me of the “The Greater Fool” theory, where an investor will pay a certain price for an object, not because he or she thinks it’s actually worth that much, but because he thinks he can sell it later to someone else for even more.

I also learned that the second most expensive painting ever sold was Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, which reportedly sold for $106.5 million back in 2010. In this case, the title pretty much describes it, but the painter just doesn’t seem to have the talent of Munch. Have you seen this? Would you pay $100 million in order to have either of these hanging over your fireplace mantle? Methinks not—even if you could scrape up the cash. (I might mention that there are at least two accomplished artists on my subscribers list, one of whom holds a degree in fine arts, and both of whom will probably whack me on all this. Deservedly, I am sure.)

Okay, okay, I’m just kidding, of course. I am not a complete cretin. I appreciate the visual arts more than most. And I am also aware that not all art is meant to be lovely and pastoral. With regard to Munch and Picasso, I believe their intent was to evoke emotion via the distortion of our visual reality. (By providing a view of the world around us from a totally different perspective, perhaps we can better appreciate it.) And they were clearly successful in this, or I wouldn’t be writing about them. And then there were the Dutch masters, such as Rembandt and Vermeer, who were, well, masters of light (check out these links—their skill was truly amazing); and Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch, post-impressionist, produced some of the most recognizable paintings in the modern world—who hasn’t enjoyed casting their eyes on Starry Night or Sunflowers?

Aesthetic pleasure is the in the eye of the beholder, of course. I have always been fond of the impressionists, particularly Claude Monet (two personal favorites: Soleil Levant (Sunrise) and Water Lilies, Green Reflection, Left Part), as far as the classics go. A couple of abstract expressionists that really knock me out are Jane Frank’s Crags and Crevices and James Whistler’s Night in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket. And I concede that pop art and surrealism, such as that produced by, most notably, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, respectively, are genuinely interesting to behold, but would undoubtedly end up in my otherwise empty, third bedroom closet along with Pablo’s cubism and anything Munch was able to come up with (follow the links to have a look).

I am heading up to Fernandina Beach this afternoon, which is about an hour’s drive north of Jacksonville, for the annual Shrimp Festival. Fernandina is located at the mouth of the St. Johns River, where it spills into the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the long-time home port to numerous shrimp boats, and each spring the residents there are inclined to celebrate their enduring history with the sea. The main feature of the festival though is the art booths, of which there will be scores, with exhibitors hailing from all over the country. Although there will be those in attendance who are fairly well-known, none, obviously, command the international presence of a Munch or Picasso. But, rest assured, the renderings of some of these travelling artists don’t come cheap either (at least relative to my personal level of disposable income). In fact, in previous visits to the festival, I have discovered a few who have original pieces with prices ranging up to as much as $15,000 (Being a long-time Florida resident, I love Ben W. Essenberg’s work—look at some of these…). And I would love to have any one of them over my mantle. But when I think about the price tag, I tend to look like the dude in Munch’s painting.

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4 comments

    I can only imagine the number of pieces that will be purchased at the Shrimp Fest. All those Shrimp boat pics! Reminds me of home and sweet Florida!

    Baseball is art, sorta.

    Some people hate baseball analogies, but baseball is way-of -the-world thinking.
    If an average ball player’s batting average is, lets say .250 and has a salary of a million dollars, surely a person hitting .275 should make incrementally more. Following that philosophy, the Yankees Alex Rodriguez has a quarter of a billion contract. Recently Albert Pujols joined baseball’s elite financial club based on his own numbers.

    Edvard Munch is a sort of average “art” hitter. Yet in the art world, some Hall of Famers would include: da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens, Cezanne and others including Van Gogh who made it into the Hall by the vote of the Veterans Commettee. French Neoclassical artist Jacques-Louis David was a brilliant technician who painted huge canvasses. Picasso explored styles of art for decades. Mr. Birong added many others in the artists Hall of Fame. Munch a Hall of Famer, no.

    Edvard “Munchy “Munch is like a scrappy second baseman who hit a “Scream-ing” walk-off home run in a world series which few people remember.

    During a baseball strike a few years back, baseball’s team owners were found guilty of collusion, “where the decision of a few firms to collude can significantly impact the market as a whole.” Wikipedia

    What The Scream will do to the art world today is raise the price of all mediocre art work, beyond its value. This is great for the art collector or museum, but crazy for the casual observer. I’m not saying The Scream is mediocre, but I’m hoping to make a point. Granted, the painting is memorable, even thought provoking. Now it is famous for the wrong reason.

    Munch’s painting now reflects a stilted reality like what “free agency” did for baseball. Get ready for steroid era. Art is going to get bloated and ugly.

    Curtis “Curty” Remington
    June 4, 2012

    Does Alex Rodriguez deserve a quarter of a billion dollar contract? Is The Scream worth $120 million? When you’re talking these kinds of numbers it’s not a matter of talent or taste. It’s all politics and conspicuous consumption as far as I’m concerned.

    For those who might be interested in learning more on this topic, I highly recommend Steve Martin’s “An Object of Beauty: A Novel.” He addresses all of these issues and gives the reader an insider’s view of the multi-multi-million dollar New York art market.

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