It wasn't until Benjamin Genocchio's review of the Norman Rockwell showing at the Nassau County Museum of Art that I began to see the artist in a different, perhaps more disturbing, light. What a disappointment, since I usually find something charming in Rockwell's work. I own a print of his Girl at the Mirror, and cannot look at it without smiling, since something about the piece touches my core. Long ago, I had the print framed, even though the reproduction has no value in the art world -- a world that is foreign to me.With that in mind, I admit that I am not the best person to write about the subject and that is all the more apparent to me after having read Richard Polsky's, i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) (Other Press). Besides being an entertaining writer, Polsky cofounded Acme Art and is a private dealer who refers to paintings as "real estate." His memoir takes the reader on a wild ride about the business of buying and selling this real estate, where one must learn how to play it cool, even when millions of dollars are at stake. Early on, Polsky writes:
It used to be all about the art world: visiting artists in their studios, socializing with collectors, and hanging out at art fairs with your fellow dealers. Now, it was all about the art market.
Anyone who is familiar with Polsky's story may have read his 2003 memoir, I Bought Andy Warhol, which is about his twelve-year search to buy Warhol's Fright Wig. Twelve years is a long time and it is stunning to discover that after succeeding in his endeavor, two years later Polsky went on to sell the Warhol.
For what it's worth, while reading Polsky's memoir, I began to pay closer attention to news stories that dealt with a world in which I have little understanding. There was a snippet in a recent New York Times about Sotheby's not wanting to tell government regulators about the executives' bonuses because Christie's would then take the information to entice the executives to their auction house. And then there was the article that received attention about how Tate Modern would have to destroy about 12,000 catalogs for its exhibition because the nude photo of a young Brooke Shields was pulled from the show. I'm not sure if this would have made the papers had it not been about Brooke Shields, but it certainly created issues for the Tate.As for the Genocchio review, I couldn't help but consider what he said about Rockwell:
He has a point and I wonder if Rockwell's works were objects from an artist who sold out or was he really inspired by the times? Maybe both.
The artist always seems to be selling something, be it optimism during a time of hardship, patriotism in wartime, or any number of products for which he created seductive illustrations for magazine advertisements.
The only piece of art I own that is worth anything, monetarily speaking, is a drawing that Peter Max did for me on a cloth napkin while we were having dinner together a few years ago. He also gave me a personalized, signed poster. He usually personalizes all his books and posters, refusing to give just a signature. The reason being, he sees how much they go for on eBay and figures he should be the one making the profit off his signature instead of autograph hounds. Either way, I have no intention of selling his gifts to me. As for Rockwell's Girl at the Mirror, that too will always have special meaning, even if the artist was selling something other than inspiration.
As a novice who will quite likely never raise a paddle at an auction, art is a matter of what moves me, and if I spent twelve years trying to get my hands on a work, I doubt I would let it go anytime soon, which makes Polsky's story all that more intriguing. I suppose, though, whether it is the artist, the work, or a dealer, someone always seems to be selling or buying and, dare I say, diminishing how a piece can touch one's very soul.