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Showing posts from May, 2015

What Makes a Masterpiece?

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What Makes a Masterpiece?
Truth in art

When Velázquez exhibited his portrait of Juan de Pareja at the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon in 1650, the picture “gained such universal applause that in the opinion of all the painters of different nations, everything else seemed like painting, but this alone like truth.” I love Velázquez for this rare quality: the ability to transcend his medium, even while using it so sublimely. One doesn’t often encounter this ability, but we are fortunate in New York to have several examples of it. Among my very favorites is Repin’s portrait of the short story writer Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin.
There are many paintings that painstakingly record the details of their subject, missing nothing except what is most important, the life, the truth about the subject. To do this an artist needs to be able to select, to perceive what is important and what is not, and to record it accordingly—beautifully. Art is a thing of the mind, not of the hand. This is wh…

Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger

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Is any painting really worth $179m?
It must have been something to be in the room at the Rockerfeller Center last Monday evening. As bidding on Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) reached $151m, Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen – auctioneer for the night – said: “We’re in new territory.” As the final bids rose in $500,000 increments, he spread his arms wide, as if to capture the sensation of the global art market reaching the stratosphere. And when he brought his gavel down on a sale of $160m (the figure rises to $179.4m once you include all the fees) a new record had been set. This was the highest ever for a work of art sold at auction – terrifyingly, works sold privately have realised even more. But to the casual observer, once the giddiness and excitement had died down, it was hard not to feel slightly queasy. In a world where 21 children under five die each minute, mainly from preventable causes, how can any work of art – however beautiful or significant – be worth…