Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Beware of Listening to Art Critics

You can put this in the category of "Too bad you didn't know then what you know now." I'm talking about art. Specifically, paintings. While looking through an old Life Magazine for an article on Charlie Chaplin's daughter Geraldine, I came across an article titled "Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?”

The date on the magazine is January 31, 1964. That was about a year before I was married and still wondering what kind of career was ahead of me. Here’s how the article begins:
“For some of America’s best known critics and a host of laymen, the answer to the above question is a resounding YES. A critic of the New York Times, hedging only a bit, pronounced Roy Lichtenstein “one of the worst artists in America.” Others insist that he is no artist at all, that his paintings of blown-up comic strips, cheap ads and reproductions are tedious copies of the banal.”
That’s a pretty tough condemnation. If I read something like that, I’d pass on Lichtenstein and buy a big-eyed child by Keane. The article continues, “But an equally emphatic group of critics, museum officials and collectors find Lichtenstein’s pop art “fascinating,” “forceful,” “starkly beautiful.” 

I was not in a financial position to invest in art in 1964 or anytime soon after that. I knew nothing about art as an investment. My loss. Here’s what the article says about him.

“A quiet affable man of 40, he fully expected to be condemned for the subject matter as well as the style of his paintings. But he little dreamed that within two years of his first pop exhibition, his canvases would be selling out at prices up to $4,000 and he himself would be a cause celebre of the art world.”

When I saw that figure, I remembered something I had recently read about art auctions in New York. Paintings are going for record-setting prices. There are a lot of very wealthy people who deem it necessary to display their breeding and wave their money by owning major works of art.
So I Googled “Roy Lichtenstein.”
I went to the website of Christie’s, the art auction house.
I found the latest prices on 4 of Roy's paintings. One of them, the one you see in the photograph above, like a thing with two heads, on the right side, just sold for $56,000,000. That’s 56 MILLION $$$$$. Lichtenstein Paintings at Christie's
I knew his work was hot, but 56 million? For something I could have bought 51 years ago for $4,000? I think that’s an appreciation of 14,000%. Just imagine if I had bought TWO of them. And add a couple by Warhol, while we’re at it.

Obviously I should not have been putting my money into Mad Comics. 

I'm not sure what the moral is here. Don’t listen to critics? Pay attention only to certain critics? Follow your heart? I don’t know. I think the moral is to not read any more articles about artists in old Life Magazines. 

The article concludes with this thought:
"Eventually, Lichtenstein and his admirers expect, the repulsiveness of his subject matter will wear off and viewers will become more aware, and perhaps appreciative, of the esthetic qualities of his paintings."

That's for sure! Fifty-six million bucks is a lot of appreciation for one painting. 


  1. Wow! Too bad we're so smart now and were so stupid in the 60's.