Money Changes Everything

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“I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.”
— Andy Warhol.

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192 One Dollar Bills, 1962 /Andy Warhol

Good old Andy, as endlessly quotable as Oscar Wilde. The papers and websites are full of news today about last night’s record breaking sale of modern and contemporary art at Sotheby’s, a record likely to be broken by tonight’s sale of modern and contemporary art at Christie’s. (Insert perfectly-understandable-but-all-in-vain hand wringing here about how it all affects how we look at works of art, distorts the careers of young artists, prices museums out of the market, etc.)

In any event, lots of collectors went home last night with pictures of money for their walls. In light of all this, I was struck by this bit of news from the UK. (Which is not quite news, since word of Damien Hirst’s latest project — a platinum skull encrusted with 8601 diamonds, which he hopes to sell for $99 million — has been buzzing around in the Brit press for a while, but it’s London debut is coming soon so the coverage is notching up.) As a painter Hirst leaves me cold. (And of course, “his” paintings are mostly the work of his squadrons of studio assistants. And yeah, yeah, I’ve heard of Rubens.) But as a conceptual artist he can be very funny and shrewd. As vanitas pieces go, there’s nothing cornier than the thought of a skull encrusted with diamonds. But to actually go do the thing, and then sell it, is a pretty funny intervention in/commentary on the lunacies of the current market. I’ve already got the thing pictured, propped over the bidet in some McMansion outside St. Petersburg. No doubt so does Hirst.

Though it may get lost in the shuffle of Warhols and Rothko, one of the most interesting pieces Christie’s will auction tonight is the Hirst I saw last week at the Christie’s preview viewing. It was one of his various meditations on medication, Lullaby Winter, a steel case fitted with glass shelves that hold hundreds of painted, cast ceramic “pills” organized into a sort of Minimalist grid. It was right across the room from Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), the Warhol disaster picture that will probably be the high point of tonight’s sale. Andy, a pill popper from way back, would have loved it.

“The best time for me is when I don’t have any problems that I can’t buy my way out of.” — Andy Warhol.

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