Wandered through a few European museums last month. You find yourself looking at the 435th Annunciation, this time by Giovanni Battisti Garbonzo DiLavatrini, and the eyes start to glaze. If there’s a modern room, it wakes you up, like chewing ice with a mouthful of cavities; then you get to the most recent works, which are conceptual pieces: a sheet of copier paper with nothing on it, framed, titled “Out of Toner.” At that point you’re ready for Annunciation #426.
There’s more art back on the cruise ship, ranging from competent to kitschy-kitschy-koo. It’s for sale! One night at dinner I was seated next to a fellow who’d run a fine-art gallery, and when the subject of shipboard art came up, he assumed the expression of Shelley Duvall in The Shining when Jack Nicholson comes hacking through the bathroom door. But people buy it.
What’s it all worth? The old standard: whatever someone’s willing to pay. The new standard: whatever the government says it’s worth. A curious case was reported in the New York Times in July: A family inherited a sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg that includes a stuffed bald eagle. Because you cannot sell anything that contains bald eagle, they are forbidden to auction it off, and the heirs do not want to shuffle off to the big house in leg irons for selling a 70-year-old bird. People like them are the lowest of the low in the prison hierarchy. Shivs in the shower. They’d never make it out.
So far they have escaped prosecution because the bird was shot by one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders — that sanctifies it, apparently — and it was plugged before the 1940 law that protected the bald eagle. It’s probably good that they can’t sell it, lest people start abusing the law to create Edgy, Outside Art that really shocks the bourgeoisie, like a snail darter in a jar of urine.
The family says it’s not worth anything, because they can’t sell it. The IRS says — and I’m paraphrasing — HAHAHAHA Seriously, pay up. From the New York Times:
Last fall, the agency sent the family an unsigned draft report that it was valuing “Canyon” at $15 million. After Mr. Lerner replied that the children were refusing to pay, the I.R.S. then sent a formal Notice of Deficiency in October saying it had increased the valuation to $65 million.