Sunday, May 22, 2016

Buying pictures


Is it probable, can we suppose, that the sun even knows how to set on those happy days in Old New York, when a Mrs Mellon might swoop down on the studio of a Russian émigré painter and snaffle ten or eleven of his canvases, already painted and dry, on the way to Bendel's? Not for so long as anything remains to be possessed, it would appear, at least during the term of one's life. Yet, always, maybe, some residual glory won't be mislaid, if ever subject to the going rate. This canvas was sold in 2007 at Christie's for ten million, six hundred eighty-one thousand dollars, a daunting load for any handbag. Then came 2008, and the buyer owned its image.

The Black and Grey series of canvases from 1969-1970 do occupy the terrain of residual glory where, in fact, there is no natural price. There is nothing more eloquent in the artist's oeuvre, nothing more stunningly provocative and coherent. Exceedingly richly complex in their roiling surfaces, they are, of course, unyielding in their resistance to simplicity. They have come to define for me the likely dynamics and issues of the political contest now being framed for the American electorate, except in one material respect. Click the image.

Without precedent Mark Rothko delineated these canvases with a perimeter border in white, portraying emphasis and confinement. The musings of an American electorate, we have discovered, have a way of migrating more liberally; and they are permeable, we have discovered, to the enterprising interventions of a variety of interested parties from abroad - in addition, that is, to the domestic Supreme Court. 

These paintings do not misrepresent the philosophical range and competing interests of the pending campaigns; while, they impart nothing to advise, only to edify. That edification relies on close contemplation, not only of distinctions, but of the effect of a preference for either of them. This must continue, the paintings urge, while time permits. This will, they attest. Yet they articulate conditions the electorate is certain to resist, the more the viewer inflicts his attention, defying the frame.

W. Eugene Smith
New York, 1950's

Mark Rothko

ca 1969

Blue, Green, Brown
National Gallery of Art
Gift of the Estate of
  Mrs. Paul Mellon

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