An art ignoramus could scream about price of paintings

The Morning File


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OK, you art collector people, you're getting just a little bit out of control now. Let's try to rein it in.

This advice comes after last week's record-breaking sale at a New York City auction of Francis Bacon's triptych called "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" for $142.4 million. That whopper was followed by someone bidding the most ever the next day for a Warhol painting, $105 million for "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)."

The Morning File's extensive staff does not include a resident art critic, unfortunately, but we'd like to think we can tell when some people have too much spare change lying around to play with. After all, the anonymous purchaser of the Bacon artwork could have instead bought more than 200 jerseys worn by Bill Mazeroski in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series.

That calculation is just a hypothetical, considering Maz apparently only wore one jersey, which fetched $632,500 at auction last week. And granted, if there were 200 of them, the value per jersey decreases. But if the Pirates second baseman would have had the foresight to switch jerseys every couple pitches of the seventh game, on the supposition that he might become a legend by hitting a walk-off homer in the ninth inning and be able to auction them all someday, he'd undoubtedly be a lot richer today. Just sayin'.

But instead of a lot of Maz jerseys with authentic champagne stains on them, someone out there now has this Bacon triptych, and his or her Swiss bank account is far poorer for it.

Full disclosure of our art ignorance before going any further: Until looking it up, we weren't sure exactly what a triptych was.

Turns out that a triptych is some kind of hinged, three-paneled artwork that can be folded, like one of those bent screens silhouetted women used to stand behind in movies in order to change their clothes, draping their slips and stockings over the top before R-rated movies came along and they no longer had to go to all that discreet trouble.

So this Bacon fellow painted several panels showing fellow painter Lucian Freud sitting down in different poses, perhaps ruminating on what kind of neurosis came with being the grandson of Sigmund Freud. And somehow, for some reason, someone decided they were worth $142.4 million in six minutes of bidding at Christie's auction house.

That's a lot of respect shown for Bacon, a British painter former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once referred to as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures."

No word on what Thatcher thought of the most notable artist South Oakland ever produced, but we're going to go out on a limb and guess she wouldn't have spent $105 of her or the queen's money on "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)." Warhol's large painting depicts a twisted body sprawled across a car's mangled interior.

There may have been a fruit bowl depicted in the car, too, since a lot of people paint those, and since it's Warhol, maybe a soup can also made it into the wreckage. But the depiction of the twisted body takes top billing. It's enough to make a man scream just like the figure in Edvard Munch's "The Scream," which sold for nearly $120 million last year, the former record for an art sale.

The Morning File author's own record for an art sale came over the summer when he spent more than $250 -- I know, gasp! -- on a large photograph for wall hanging of a beach scene from the Outer Banks. So we're just a little bit out of our league in commenting on these other purchases, but here's something we're wondering -- what did those typhoon-stricken Filipinos stranded without any kind of food, shelter or aid think when they heard about more than $100 million being spent on these different paintings?

Oh, wait, they couldn't have heard -- they don't have any electricity or contact with the outside world, unless you count an occasional conversation with Anderson Cooper. Oh well, can't imagine what they don't know will hurt them any more than they're already pained.


Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.

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