It was the 1960s, it was the middle of the “Go-Go” years, and it was a trip into the “city”, commonly known as Manhattan.
I was a teenager and enthralled with modern art, possibly because my high school art teacher, whose name now escapes me, had told my mother that I had “surprising talent.” (Sidebar: He took several of my watercolor works to enter them into a citywide contest and never returned them. To this day I don’t know whether one of the stipulations of the contest was that no artwork was to be returned, or if it ended up on his home wall, although I suspect the latter.)
But I digress. I was on a quest to see what the Guggenheim art museum, an iconic mid-century Frank Lloyd Wright architectural wonder, had to offer.
The Guggenheim looks like an inverted bee skep, at least to my eyes. Once inside, you will walk up a circular ramp from bottom to top and down again. Inside the ramp, niches display the artwork. From the beginning, it’s slanted interior walls made hanging those artworks a challenge.
I don’t remember much about the works I viewed, perhaps because they weren’t very noteworthy. But I do remember a few. There was a large piece, perhaps five feet by five feet entitled, “Snowstorm.” There were others of similar genre, and similar stupidity. Even at 16 years of age I could recognize what insipid and phony look like.
Fast-forward forty-five years. Last year an art critic excoriated modern art. This was a number of years after the late Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes” did a segment on gullible art buyers. One woman who stood out in his interview had purchased an artwork consisting of an installation of a wall of candy cascading from a corner of her room. In true Mike Wallace fashion, he grilled her closely about her purchase; it’s meaning, her feelings about it, and finally, the cost. His point was that she was a fool for making her purchase.
Let me be clear. The historical record is full of art critics who excoriated cutting edge artists and their works. I especially remember the Impressionists like Manet and Monet and Renoir and Degas. Of course, since then, works by these painters have skyrocketed in value. The latest Renoirs of modest size can still be had for anywhere from about $110,000.00 to a quarter of a million dollars.
Monet? Some of his works have sold in the last few months for prices of anywhere from about four million to over ten million. Hardly chump change by any stretch of the imagination
But I still wonder about that candy wall I saw so many years ago. I wonder about the artist. I wonder about the buyer. I wonder if it’s still in place. I wonder if the buyer made any other purchases. I wonder if she had grandchildren and they ate the artwork. Oh, how I wonder!