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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Unimaginable Bigtime in Painting

A sign of our times, that may be more revealing than most others....

A man named Gerhard Richter (born in 1932) has become so successful as a painter, at least commercially, that at auctions no less than 545 of his paintings have brought prices of $100,000 at the very least! Not only that, but also by comparison he is getting better prices than, for instance, Diego de Silva Velasquez (1599-1660), a certified Old Master and in my opinion one of the 10 or 12 greatest painters of all time. And now a drive is on with such speed and force that it is practically certain to succeed in establishing Richter as one of the four most pre-eminent painters of the past 100 years, putting him right up there with A. Warhol, W. de Kooning, and P. Picasso. And all this from a guy whose name was not familiar to me, though, as a painter myself and one serious enough to have managed to finish as many as 90 fairly substantial works up until about 10 years ago (the great majority of them, as with everything else I've done, whether in the writing or in the painting or in the stained glass, still in my possession), my eye usually catches any mention of art developments in the news.

First of all, 545 is a tremendous number of really serious paintings for any one person merely to produce, much less sell at such prices, in a lifetime, though the production part of that is not unheard of. Maybe Richter has a work ethic comparable to that of a couple of my neighbors that I can name. Or he is one of those modern painters who has a workshop where he employs a large number of people with art training to turn out works done in whatever style he happens to adopt at any particular moment. But it's true that he's been at it for a long time, and he has a wide range and is viewed as being especially proficient at both abstract and photo-realistic stuff, two genres that are usually at odds with each other.

Still, how can it be that he can have so many works selling at such high numbers, and, even more puzzling, how can he outdo an Old Master like Velasquez? Because it is highly doubtful that neither he nor Picasso nor anyone else in the past 200 years has produced a work equal to Velasquez's "Las Meninas," a painting that would be worth a trip to Madrid just to see it in its room in the Prado all by itself, or even just his "Surrender at Breda."

The following passage from the article I have cited may shed valuable light on that:

...I don’t think that the laws of supply and demand are particularly useful here. In many ways, the high prices we’re seeing for Richter represent a liquidity premium, and also the way in which rich people are happier dropping enormous sums of money on art if those sums have already been ratified by dozens of other transactions at similar valuations.

I guess that shows how things go for those who are currently occupying the often questionable niche of the "1%" that we hear so much about these days.


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