A month ago we did a piece commenting on the absurdity of a small UK country auction house selling leftovers from Francis Bacon’s studio floor and calling it Art. Well, the market has spoken. Rescued from a garbage bin by a local electrician, the discarded “Study for a Portrait”, estimated at an already high £12,000 to £18,000, sold for £400,000 before buyer’s premium. £400,000. That makes it hard to simply write this off as memorabilia. (Total proceeds were £965,490. Pre-sale estimates ranged from a realistic £30,000 to a very optimistic £500,000. The range in pre-sale estimates is, in itself, a good indication of how difficult it was to estimate the ‘collection’s’ value.)
When last we broached this topic we also made passing reference to a certain “Damien Hirst Stalin”, sold at Sothebys for £140,000. In this case, Hirst helped out his friend, writer AA Gill, dispose of an unwanted Soviet era portrait of Stalin that Christie’s had refused to sell. One hastily painted, off centre, red spot later, and Christies accepted the new Damien Hirst into a contemporary art sale with alacrity (although it was Sothebys that eventually sold it), and again the market responded warmly.
In the first case, Bacon’s clear intentions have been ignored, and works he never intended to be seen, let alone sold, have been designated Art. In the second, an artist’s intention to poke fun at the market succeeded royally. And the result is again labelled Art.
In both cases it is the name of an artist that has turned rubbish into Art. The name alone. Should we care?