I love art. Beautiful paintings, sculptures, great books, and fine music add immeasurably to life. Sometimes, just being in the presence of something artistic makes the world seem less dangerous somehow. Art has the power to transform us, to reorient our perspective. So, I love art. Yet, sometimes, I don’t get art.
Yesterday a painting by Francis Bacon sold at auction for $142,000,000. No, this was not a sketch found in an attic belonging to the great English philosopher. This was a three part painting by a dead Irish artist known primarily for being openly and proudly gay at a time when most gay people were neither. The painting was in three frames and depicted a man sitting in what looks like some sort of wired cubicle at various angles. The man’s features are blurred and abstract. It turns out that the subject of the painting was Lucian Freud, a famous and influential painter in his own right, with whom Mr. Bacon had an ongoing relationship. These details are irrelevant. What boggles my mind is the price tag that this particular painting brought. One hundred and forty two million dollars is a lot of money. You could buy 300 Lamborghinis with that kind of money. You could sponsor 350,000 starving South American kids for a year with that kind of money. But some anonymous person thought to spend 142 million on this instead:
I’m told that Mr. Bacon’s painting fetched the highest price for a painting in history. That’s great news for the art business, but I’m not sure what it says about art. But, what do I know?