January 7, 2014

"What does $142 million look like, hung on a wall? At first glance, disappointing."

"From across the room the panels present a dull expanse of mustard and puce."

But this is a column in The Nation, so the question above is quickly replaced by: "That some anonymous billionaire acquired a new silver spoon to display at dinner parties may be boring or infuriating, but is it relevant?"

But is it relevant?! How old is that writer (Zoë Carpenter)? Her question was a laugh-line cliché in the 1960s. I mean, in my memory's eye, I see magazine cartoons with that caption... in The New Yorker, 2 sophisticates holding cocktails glance at a tray of hors d'oeuvres... in Playboy, a woman looks at a man's genitalia.... But is it relevant?

 It made us laugh because But is it relevant? was what everyone was saying about everything.

This Nation piece, however, isn't funny at all. Ms. Carpenter makes me feel that any topic of seeming interest will be met with a grim face and a stern admonition to think about "the bleak fortunes of workers and the poor." Somebody was rich enough to bid the price of a triptych up to $142 million, but what does this mean about the potential to make "income inequality" the central concern of American politics?

26 comments:

Rumpletweezer said...

Rich people can't win. They're damned if they spend their money...and damned if they don't.

rehajm said...

The buyer is a political leftie- is that relevant?

YoungHegelian said...

Ms. Carpenter makes me feel that any topic of seeming interest will be met with a grim face and a stern admonition to think about "the bleak fortunes of workers and the poor."

Maybe it ain't only the Baptists who are finding themselves in the middle of a Calvinist revival...

CWJ said...

Rumpletweezer,

One of the commenters to the linked article actually manged to damn the rich for both, charactering spending 142MM on an artwork as "hoarding."

Larry J said...

Rumpletweezer said...

Rich people can't win. They're damned if they spend their money...and damned if they don't.


Perhaps the only way the rich can win is to give all their money to the proper leftists. Of course, they'll be condemned by all the other leftists but what can you do?

rehajm said...

"...any topic of seeming interest will be met with a grim face and a stern admonition to think about "the bleak fortunes of workers and the poor."


Over there is Terry Auerback,

captain of the swim team.

That's Carl Phillips,

editor of the Daily Faberian.

And...Clayton, Sidney, Jugdish, Mohammet, Lonny-

We already met.

Super! Then you'll have lots to talk about.

Paul Zrimsek said...

They outbid Katrina vanden Heuvel. Someone must pay.

n.n said...

Thou shalt not covet...

There are more relevant metrics to concern the rich and poor alike. Not the least of which is the correlation between control and leverage, be it wealth or democratic.

rhhardin said...

It just moves the $142 million. It doesn't waste it.

The buyer uninvests it and the seller invests it back.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

It's a safe bet that the buyer is richer than the seller, so we have a $142M redistribution of wealth from the buyer to the seller. The seller in turn has to redistribute some of that to the auction house, which in turn redistributes some to its employees, including the minimum wage worker who mops the floors and cleans the bathrooms.

If the painting had instead been given to some museum, they'd then have to take one of the paintings currently hanging at the museum down, and store it in the basement.

Worse, the billionaire would keep the $142M, and might instead give some or all of it to the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, Zoe Carpenter can still wonder what $142 million would look like hung on a wall. She's only seen the painting. The fact that she did not think the painting very good should only increase her redistributive pleasure at seeing it sold to a private buyer.

The rational thing for Zoe to do, if she wants a piece of her own $142M painting, is to go around and buy up inexpensive works by young but promising artists, then hang on to them for 45 years. Or, she could paint one.

EDH said...

The relevance of the painting's price is the Obama administration's job killing, anti-growth policies that have led to stagnating wages necessitates a loose Federal Reserve monetary policy in order to prevent the economy from collapsing, with the side result that there's a bubble in asset prices.

cubanbob said...

I must be a philistine. To me, being generous I would pay $1,420.00.

Strelnikov said...

Two quick points:

(1) Don't waste anymore of your life reading The Nation; and
(2) Try substituting "What an asshole." for the caption on any New Yorker cartoon. It improves about 90% of them.

Revenant said...

This came up in the "minimum wage" thread, but I'll repeat -- it amazes me that people think money magically disappears when you hand it to someone else.

Person X has $142 million and Person Y has a painting. They trade; now Person X has a painting and Person Y has $142 million.

Nothing has changed, economy-wise. If the painting had sold for $0.01 the effect on the poor would have been the same.

Michael K said...

"If the painting had sold for $0.01 the effect on the poor would have been the same."

Shhhhh. The left hasn't figured that out. They don't know about Bastiat yet.

Sigivald said...

$142M might buy you a Bacon triptych, but if it's that one, it didn't buy you taste.

In his place, I'd rather have a reproduction (AFAIK the originals are not on the market at all) of one of Bacon's works based on Portrait of Pope Innocent X.

They're interesting in a way that triptych completely isn't.

pst314 said...

"It is no accident that American progressives put so many of us in mind of our Puritan ancestors: not for their virtues, such as they are, but for their sanctimoniousness, their humorlessness, their grim little mouths set permanently in rictuses...of self-satisfaction biting down on disgust. Like the accusers in 17th-century Salem or the contemporary Wahhabist eager to behead such witches as may be found lingering upon Saudi soil, the progressive sees the work of the Archnemesis everywhere at all times — especially when there is something to be gained from doing so."

"The Left needs racism, because unlike their good, old-fashioned Marxist forebears, the postmodern Left’s politics is not rooted in economics or history but in narrative — the most adolescent narrative: Good Guys and Bad Guys."
--Racism! Squirrel! by Kevin Williamson at NRO

William said...

The high price tag on certain pieces of art is an integral part of their beauty. I look at a painting that sells for 142 million differently than I do at a painting that sells for $50,000. If great art is meant to inspire shock and awe,then a one hundred million dollar price tag helps the process along.

Freeman Hunt said...

Were they $142 million because they're the ugliest paintings in the world? I can see how that would be impressive. Say you want to make the best looking painting in the world, sure, that's hard. There's competition from great painters throughout the ages. But to make the ugliest? Much harder! The world is full of horrible paintings. Amateurs challenge you from every corner of every community of the world. How does one even endeavor to make the ugliest paintings? It's too big, too impossible an undertaking. And then to do it! For one's dreck to triumph over all the other dreck, to win over an Everestian pile of competition!

Maybe $142 million was too cheap.

Freeman Hunt said...

Or maybe when they were bidding, the two bidders didn't realize the numbers were millions. "$142! Heck, that's less than $50 a painting. I'll take it."

Freeman Hunt said...

Maybe they're redecorating a guest room, and they've had problems with people visiting for too long.

Kirk Parker said...

Freeman,

Ugliest paintings in the world? At least they don't look like this fictitious piece.

Brando said...

And I'm sure some Bangladeshi rope farmer would consider it obscene for someone to spend six bucks on a hamburger because that represents a huge portion of his own annual wage. It's all relative.

But if some rich guy decides he'd rather have that piece of art than the $142 million he parted with, who are we to complain? There's no fraud or theft involved, and yet the likes of Ms. Carpenter seem to think the world would be better off without such purchases being made, and less money going to artists and art dealers.

Is the issue that this buyer didn't give the $142 million to charity? How do we even know what this buyer actually does give to charity? Or how much of this buyer's tax dollars go towards government programs to help the less fortunate? I'd guess that this buyer has done more for the poor (as well as the not so poor) than Ms. Carpenter has done.

Maybe it's time we put Ms. Carpenter under the microscope! Did she spent too much on something in the past year that might offend the sensibilities of our proverbial Bengal rope farmer???

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

From across the room the panels present a dull expanse of mustard and puce.

I'm amazed that no one has so far pointed out that there is no puce to be seen in those panels. My guess is that the author has no idea what "puce" means, but figured it was something like "puke" and attached the word to the icky beige parts of the panels.

SOJO said...

Well, that's what need to happen, unfortunately. I'm sure many abolitionists were not much fun at a party.

It's not fun to see to the plumbing and sewer lines when you'd rather be choosing the wood for the new boat deck paneling or the fixtures for the summer home, but it'll be a whole lot less fun down the road if you don't tend to first things.

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