Friday, January 24, 2014

A $46 Million Minus Sign

In the Wall Street Journal this morning comes an article titled “New Masters of the Art Universe.” Hedge fund managers are evidently spending their small change on buying expensive art and then—they can’t really help it, it’s a reflex with them—trading these art works again. I was just scanning the story sort of when I saw one purchase that made me laugh spontaneously. One no doubt famous trader had spent $46 million on a painting simply known as Rothko’s “No. 11 (Untitled).” I am bringing a copy of it here—not, mind you, a photograph. I dare not reproduce the actual image lest I be sued for copyright infringement. I made it myself using the Paint program Microsoft conveniently supplies with my Vista operating system.

Moments later Brigitte was laughing with me. Now, of course, ours is but a view from one perspective. We view art as imagery. And yes. Rothko’s total oeuvre, to give it the appropriate description, is mostly minus signs in different colors, but his pronounced preference is for shades of red and orange. The few blue-tinted minus signs don’t look at home at all. Green is absent, except in the pocket of Rothko buyers. The more comprehensive view point, in which “art as image” is only a slice, includes vast ranges of human perception based on trading value, money, shorting and longing any kind of saleable object. And that’s where our Masters of the Art Universe are busy vying with one another for reflected glory. 

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