Friday, May 4, 2012

"Makes Me Want To Scream"

I’m not sure why this bothers me, but it does.  And I’m not sure why I’m writing about it, but I am.

The famous painting “The Scream”, rendered by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch in the 1890’s, recently sold at auction for nearly a hundred and twenty million dollars.

How much of that goes to the painter?

The painter in question passed away in 1944.

How much would he have received if he were alive?

The same as he received dead.  The most recent owner gets the hundred and twenty million, minus the Sotheby’s commission, for auctioning it off.

Nothing for the family?

I beg your pardon?

You know, the Munch heirs.  I mean, their ancestor painted ‘The Scream.’  Shouldn’t they be cut in for a taste?”

It doesn’t work that way.

You paint it, you sell, and you’re out of the picture – pardon the pun.  No matter how much it sells for down the line. 

That's correct. 

Well, I’m not sure it’s correct.  But I’m accepting that it’s accurate.

Whatever you say, sir.

Is the new owner a painter?

The new owner bid on the phone.  They are listed as an “unspecified buyer.”

It’s probably not a painter.  How many of them have that kind of dough?

I’m sorry.  But what difference does their being a painter make?

They could have bought it to study it.

One can do that in a museum.

Not anymore.  They’d have to go to the guy’s house.  DING DONG.  “Hi, can I come in for a few minutes and study your painting?”  How often would you get a “Yes” on that one?  You’re more likely to hear, “Security!”

That would be the owner’s prerogative.

I was joking.

I’m sorry.  Your intention eluded me.

What did they buy it for, I wonder?

People generally buy paintings to exhibit them in their homes.

Rich people, in this case.  Regular people would have to sell their homes to buy it, and they’d still come up a hundred and nineteen million and change short.

Do you have something against the super wealthy?

Probably.  But setting personal prejudice aside, what would it be like having a hundred and twenty million dollar painting hanging in your house?

Very satisfying, I would imagine.

But not entirely normal.  It’s not a nice painting of a bowl of fruit.  You own one of the most famous and, currently, the most expensive painting in the world.  What do you do with it?  I mean, you’re not going to stash it in the basement with the half-filled cans of paint and stacks of unread New Yorkers

But you don’t want to totally throw it in people’s faces either.  You have to be subtle about it.  You hang it right by the front door, the dinner guests arrive, and it’s like, “We know! 

On the other hand, you don’t want it hanging in the Master Powder Room that no one is allowed into.  That’s like, “What, we’re not good enough to look at it?” 

The “picture placement” is key here.  Not throwaway casual – “Oh, that old thing?”  Nor offensively showy – “Dinner is served.  Come this way, past my ‘Scream’ painting.”

I think you are making too much of this.

Me?  I didn’t price it at a hundred and twenty million.  Y’know, most days, I imagine, the painting just hangs there.  Some days, maybe weeks at a time, I bet the owner forgets to look at it.  I mean, I’ve got an ocean out my window, and I barely notice it at all. 

The person who’s probably involved with it most is the cleaning lady.  “Dust very carefully.  Any scratches, and it’s coming out of your salary.” 

Which reminds me, my brother once defaced our only oil painting by supplementing it with a watercolor bunny.  So you really have to talk to the kids.

And then, there’s the immense value of the thing.  I mean, I’m sure it’s insured, but if it’s lost, they don’t replace your “Scream” painting with another “Scream” painting.  You only get cash.  Which to the person who shelled out the hundred and twenty mil would appear to mean very little.  You want to hold on to the painting. 

Which can be revelatory as to priorities.  Say, there’s a fire in the middle of the night.  You pop out of bed, and immediately rescue the painting.  The wife goes, “What about me?”  Uh-oh, Rich Guy.  You are pretty much busted. 

I am sure that would never happen.

Have it your way.  You carry her out of the inferno, and race back for the painting.  You emerge, clutching the masterpiece in your arms, she goes, “We have children, you know.”  Busted again!

I would imagine the owner would have the character to do the right thing.

The “right thing”?  The “right thing” would be to buy the “Scream” painting, donate it to a gallery with maybe a “From the collection of” designation under it.  That way, everyone, even people without a hundred and twenty million dollars, can enjoy it whenever they want to.  Why not do that, instead of hoarding it in your house for the exclusive pleasure of a handful of selfish people who…uh-oh, did I just make a speech?

I believe you did, sir.


I thought your primary purpose was to entertain.

It is.  But sometimes, I’m afraid, it just gets away from me.


Thomas said...

I, for one, am pleased that $120 million has been liberated and may now be used productively in the economy. Better than $120 million stagnating in the bank.

Nick Lassonde said...

The good news is that there are 4 official copies of the Scream, and the other 3 are in museums, so the world isn't missing out on the Scream completely.