Friday, May 30, 2008

The Thirty-Three Million Dollar Lady

I know this is old news, but I'm still stuck on the record-breaking sale of the Lucian Freud painting at Christie's a few weeks ago. Sold for $33.6 million, the painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping set a new record price for a piece sold by a living artist.

Here's the painting. I really like it, but at this point, I wonder if aesthetics even enter into it. Roman Abramovich, a Russian billion, was revealed as the buyer of the Freud painting, as well as artist Francis Bacon's Triptych as part of the same lot. Mr. Abromovich, who also owns the Chelsea English football league, has a fortune valued at $25 billion. Does he like the painting, or is it a savvy investment decision? Maybe both?

The mental image that this story leaves me with is that of a staff member carefully, carefully hanging the painting up in this guy's house (though I have no idea if he even plans to have it in his home). What would it be like to personally own such a work? To look at it at you're eating cereal in the morning? The commodification of fine art always seemed like a little bit of a contradiction to me. Artists have to eat, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to make millions off their work as well, but I just think I'm a little bit in the Indiana Jones camp, and that "it belongs in a museum!" I like the idea that great works are available to the public to be studied and enjoyed. Can you put price on beauty, historical significance, and cultural relevance? I guess so.

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