Censoring Picasso

May 18 2015

Image of Censoring Picasso

Picture: Fox News/Metro

Fox News censored the naughty bits in Picasso's Women of Algiers (which sold last week for $179m). More here.

Meanwhile, the eye-popping price for the Picasso has prompted another round of socialist whataboutism. In the Guardian, Sarah Crompton asks:

In a world where 21 children under five die each minute, mainly from preventable causes, how can any work of art – however beautiful or significant – be worth this amount? How can any single object? You’re going to tell me you can’t put a price on genius (and Picasso, were he here today would probably agree with you) but it seems to me a frightening waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. [...]

Think of the galleries you could fund with that $179m as well as the children you could save! The inflated price is not about any real value or any desire to share art with the world. It is driven instead by a combination of two things: firstly, the unfettered power of global capitalism, where art is seen as an investment, and where the limited supply of modernist masters drives prices ever upwards. Secondly, those hyper-rich collectors who want the world to know they have taste and discrimination. That’s why instantly recognisable trophy pieces – a Picasso, a Giacometti, a Klimt, a Bacon – command such ridiculously high prices.

In the same article, Tiffany Jenkins provides the voice of reason:

Is $179m a lot of money? Most certainly. Is it a waste of money to spend this fantastic sum on one painting, a canvas depicting a mess of jagged female limbs? Certainly not. We are, after all, talking about Picasso, one of the greatest and most influential artists that ever lived. Why shouldn’t someone spend a fortune to own a work by – yes – a genius?

It’s true, spending money on art won’t cure cancer, or stop the children you mention from dying, but is it not human to want both? To take care of our basic needs and the more elevated ones? A civilised society cares for the soul as well as the body – let us not neglect hearts and minds. Most sick people don’t just want to get better, they want life to be worth living – and art contributes to this latter need. Following your logic, we could stop the state from funding the arts altogether, because the money could be better spent on health; and we could prevent the rich from spending their cash as they choose, so as to make sure it goes towards something more worthy, but wouldn’t that also be the most spiritually empty and bland world in which to live? (Not to mention terrifying in its illiberalism.) [...]

Art has always been tied to power and money. There would be no Sistine Chapel without the Holy See; no Dutch old masters without the bourgeoisie and their desire for portraiture. So now a new class of very wealthy people want to show that they have arrived – ’twas ever thus. Why hold it against them? There is an element of inverted snobbery here: we, the poor-but-cultured are genuinely discerning, whereas those super-rich oligarchs don’t know the meaning of good taste.

Finally, there was an interesting little remark from Christie's modern art supremo Brett Gorvy over on Instagram, where, in the midst of an Instagram spat with another auctioneer, he said:

Pictures don't just sell themselves at Christie's. Especially for over $150 m.

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