Saturday, January 12, 2013

Modern art meets the cleaning lady

The million-dollar piece of... art

From Yahoo News:
A million-dollar mistake in German museum
File this one under "O" for "Oops." A cleaner with the best intentions accidentally destroyed a piece of art worth more than $1 million when she removed what she thought was a "stain" from the installation. Spoiler alert: It wasn't really a stain.
The piece of art, titled "When It Starts Dripping From The Ceilings," features a series of wooden planks and a (formerly) discolored plastic bowl. The artist, the late Martin Kippenberger, intended for viewers to understand that the bowl had been discolored by water running over the pieces of wood.
Unfortunately, the bowl isn't so discolored anymore. A spokesperson from the art museum in Dortmund, Germany, remarked that "it is now impossible to return it to its original state." The cleaner was apparently unaware that she was supposed to stay at least 20 centimeters away from the works of art.
Kippenberger died at the age of 43 in 1997, but he left behind a large collection of work. Roberta Smith of the New York Times said he was "widely regarded as one of the most talented German artists of his generation." Like many of the greats, his work has grown more valuable since his death. In 2005, a Kippenberger painting went for more than $1 million.
Beyond parody. We too have an modern "art exhibit" here at Stony Brook. One of the pieces is an old broken television set with a cracked screen on a cheap wood table. There are security devices that protect it.

Art is like dreams in Freudian psychology-- it is the royal road to the unconscious, in this case the road to the metaphysical abyss into which modern secular society is swirling. Less and less are we taking seriously the fundamental questions of life-- how can we know God-- what does He want of us-- what is our destiny? These questions were reflected in the astonishing beauty of Christian art in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

We are forgetting the questions. We accept transparently idiotic arguments that there is no objective moral law and that everything came from nothing. Our inner life is turning to junk. Our art reflects it.

Tom Wolfe had another take on modern art. In the Painted Word, Wolfe suggests that modern art is the currency of the dialogue among the narcissists of the art world and their wealthy patrons. Modern art is not meant for us, and it's not about us, Wolfe observes.

But I think it is about us.


  1. Terrific essay on this subject: "Why Art Became Ugly".

    A list of Professor Hicks' essays on art here.

  2. So, now cat litter boxes are "art" that is "worth" more than $1 million ... so long as some artsy someone says it is both?

    1. So, now cat litter boxes are "art" that is "worth" more than $1 million ... so long as some artsy someone says it is both?

      No. It is worth $1 million because that's what auction houses estimate people will offer to pay for it.

      Black pearls were once valueless junk. Now they are highly sought after and expensive. Commercial value is based upon the amount a purchaser is willing to pay, not based upon what you think a purchaser should pay.

    2. Foolish, foolish anonymouse, you can't even see the contradiction in your silly rant, can you?

      And, at the same time, I'd just bet that on some other subject, say, "price gouging", you'll take exactly the opposite tack.

    3. you can't even see the contradiction in your silly rant, can you?

      Given that there is no contradiction, that would be difficult. On the other hand, I'm guessing that you don't have even a high school level education in economics, so questions of what determines value are probably beyond your ken.

      The artwork in question was valued at $1 million because auction houses looked at the market, looked at what people were willing to pay for similar works by this artist and others like him, and determined that if it was sold, that's what it would sell for. For reference, Kippenberger has recently had two works sell for just over $1 million, and another sell for just over $3 million. Based upon that, a decent estimate can be made for the value of this work should it ever come to market.

      It is only an estimate, the 'true' value would have to be determined by an actual auction, but in general professional auction houses are quite good at figuring out what the value would be if such works were to be sold. And most auction houses are not run by an "artsy someone", but rather by someone who is keenly interested in making money.