News reports often send ripples across the web. Sometimes, a piece of news creates a volcano of opinions that is best described by this pic, although it is not always water that floods the community.
Yesterday’s sale of Francis Bacon’s triptych for $142m did just that.
The reaction of people of all possible colours, races, religions, and IP addresses begins with the “WTF” (not World Trade Federation) and is followed by one of the following:
- $142m is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for three canvases, even if it is art
- These three canvases are not art
It may be a delusion on my part, but I have a feeling I know the correct answers.
Is $142m a ridiculous amount of money to be paid for an artwork made in 1969?
It was bought, most likely, by either the Qatar foundation (that is also behind the purchase of Munch’s Scream for $120m and Cezanne’s Card Players for $250m) or the Saudi Royals.
The Qatar foundation wants to build a collection of modern and contemporary art that will make other nations respect their sheiks not just for their oil money but for their individual brilliance, as men of culture. They want to be at the forefront of culture, not just the few select New Bond Street/Fifth Avenue stores.
Paying $142m is ridiculous if it buys three canvases, but is rather a small amount for achieving the ultimate objective of buying respect.
You may wonder if buying respect is possible at all.
That depends on the mindset. Qatar and Saudi sheiks act according to the caveman’s mentality. They believe in totems. If something is venerated by a foreign tribe, it is probably revered because it makes their tribesmen better or protects them from evil or does something similarly wondrous. So, you do whatever it takes to get their totem, and bring it over to your tribe.
And, of course, the foreign tribe understands perfectly well that it is not Francis Bacon in the National Gallery (by the way, the National Gallery in London does not have a Bacon, I believe) that creates respected men and women of culture. So, its art chieftains happily sell the totem for $142m and are whistling all the way to the bank.
It might be of help to Qatar and Saudi sheiks to know that respect is not bought, but earned. Alas, it may take some extraordinary effort to explain it to people who still believe the Earth is flat (Sheik Abdul Aziz Ibn Baaz) and mini-skirts lead to earthquakes (Hajatosalem Kazem Sedighi).
It is impossible to explain to these buyers of Bacon that until they stop believing women should not be allowed to get education and drive cars (because if they do their children are born defective, according to Sheik Salah al-Luhaidin) and start investing into science, promoting freedoms, and, particularly the freedom of expression, respect is not going to materialise. These changes require much more money than $142m, but purchasing Munch, Cezanne, and Bacon is still not a shortcut.
The good thing is that they are paying top money for the other tribe’s totems, helping the art and fashion industries to prosper.
Oh, and I think that many of the super-rich of European or other origins have the same mentality. Roman Abramovich made a spectacular show of it when he bought Chelsea football club, for instance. The caveman’s mindset does not depend on race or religion. So, if I am wrong in my assumption about the buyer’s identity, it changes, basically, nothing at all. It was a purchase of respect, not art, by someone who’s got a lot of money earned in a way that has not generated respect on its own.
Bill Gates doesn’t need to buy respect. You may hate or like Windows, but you are bound to respect the man who invented it. If you sell oil you happen to own, well, what to respect about it?
Are the three paintings great art?
Yes, they are. They show a man who is very strong in the head, but who is being tested by the world in a very dramatic manner right that moment (aren’t we all, from time to time?).
Bacon would symbolize a man restrained by the society with a box within which the portrayed man would be confined. The bodily and facial distortions would reflect the inner fight the man has to live through to remain within the societal confines.
Bacon’s mate, Lucien Freud, is shown as someone who is within the box, but is feeling quite comfy, his legs or elbows can freely move out. That’s because Freud was a free artist inside.
Freud in this portrait is not someone happy (his paintings were destroyed by fire not long before that sitting) but he is not a suffering piece of flesh.
It is a genius representation of the idea of individual freedom which can be achieved despite and regardless of societal oppression. It is a promise, a hope to us all. I don’t know how much it is worth in terms of money, but in terms of its value as an idea, it is priceless.
I will talk more about it, if you want, I just need a better quality photograph of these paintings. As you are probably aware from my previous posts, to explain an artwork, I often have to magnify its details.
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