The art world is known for being off on its own, apart – even disconnected – from the world at large. But an affinity between the two may be emerging.
Remember my earlier column about attendance at a Picasso show outnumbering one for an Impressionism show at the Seattle Art Museum? I had asked why art of the always-happy get bested by the art of the often-angry. After all, I reasoned, Impressionism has been appealing to collectors since its beginning in the 19th century. I also noted that France seemed to tell a different story. A recent retro of Monet’s work at Paris’s Grand Palais was the most visited art exhibition in 40 years. And given that, I had supposed that maybe America’s two ongoing wars was helping people relate better to Picasso’s unvarnished visions rather than to Impressionism’s prettified variety.
But after the column ran, self-doubts set in: maybe the French were sentimental about Impressionism because they invented it. Maybe the bigger attendance for the Picasso show was a fluke.
But then, London’s latest auctions confirm the change in taste.
Several works by Impressionist biggie Camille Pissarro failed to sell at Sotheby’s. But Sotheby’s got $40.7 million for a Picasso, “Reading,” and $37 million for a twisted Francis Bacon triptych by fellow painter Lucian Freud. Even the lesser known avant-garde modernist Lyonel Feininger garnered $5.1 million, tripling Sotheby’s high estimate—for “Side-Wheel Steamer at the Landing,” a 1912 image of a ship struggling against waves in the shape of broken glass.
Picasso was definitely the star at Sotheby’s this year. Some 15 years ago, Christie’s got no takers for his 1932 painting of his mistress, Marie-Thérèse, priced at $6 million at the time. The latest at Sotheby’s for the work: Priced at $19.2 million, it sold for $40.7 million.
Another Modernist also sold for more than expected: Surrealist Salvador Dali broke a record of $5.6 million at Christie’s this year by selling for $6.5 million for Dali’s “Study for ‘Honey is Sweeter Than Blood.” As well, eight out of ten paintings by surrealist René Magritte sold, including “Magnet” for $7.6 million at Christie’s, which last sold for $170,000 in 1981.
Then there was this big of news under a headline in last week’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune that read: “Local arts venues succeed with daring fare.”The story by theater critic Jay Handelman and dance writer Carrie Seidman began this way: “A concert played entirely in the dark. A 20th-century opera about infamous witch trials sung in English. A ballet in which gay couples cavort around a urinal. Nudity.”
All this for a long-stodgy Sarasota, populated by retirees and their reactionary tastes. As if to explain the phenomenon, the reporters quoted Sarasota dance theater goer Carol Gaskin, and it’s worth quoting.
“I’m not looking for sensationalism or exhibitionism; I’m not looking to be offended or grossed out or reminded that humankind is lacking. I am looking for something else — something transformative and uplifting that takes you somewhere beautiful and deep.”