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Vertical Diamond in the Rough
July 27, 2012 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Abstract artist Ilya Bolotowsky is represented in quite a few museums. But a painting of his, Vertical Diamond, appeared in a more unusual location,, was snapped up for bargain price of $9.99 and was nearly recycled into pet paintings. A label on the back of the painting from the Weatherspoon Art Museum led the museum's registrars to dig into archived files and track some of the painting's history before it found itself in the bargain bin.
posted by PussKillian (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
“I thought they would be awesome canvases. They were $9.99 a piece and I just thought they would be great to just draw on them and paint over them because I didn’t like them as paintings. They were really ‘70s kind of looking, but not ‘70s in that fun, kitschy way, ‘70s in a different way that I don’t really enjoy, so I was like, ‘I’m going to paint big cat heads or whatever,’”

From here on out, "I'm going to paint big cat heads or whatever" is my standard response to any store employee asking what I need help with.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:50 PM on July 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I guess value is in the eye of the collector.

It can't be the work itself. A counterfeit painting pretending to be from a big name artist may sell for tens of thousands of dollars, but once the forgery is revealed, the value plummets. Why should that be, if it's exactly the same painting before and after?

And this case is the opposite example. Without knowing who the artist was, the price was $10. Once they discovered the artist, now it's worth thousands of dollars.

I can only conclude that it's really about scarcity and bragging rights. It isn't about the work itself; if that were the case, the value of the painting would be the same no matter who painted it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


See? See???
posted by Sys Rq at 4:53 PM on July 27, 2012


"Feeback said she has been in touch with the woman who used to own the painting.

They tried to sell them at a church yard sale April 28, but when no one expressed interest, they took them to the Goodwill. Feeback showed up at that store that same afternoon and made her lucky find.

The couple have taken Feeback up on her offer to paint them a picture of their late cat, Buttons."

posted by ancillary at 5:05 PM on July 27, 2012


I can only conclude that it's really about scarcity and bragging rights.

Or it could be that the history of the object matters.
posted by mek at 5:18 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or it could be that the history of the object matters.

So how much would it be worth if I bought it for $10,000 and then had this woman paint a big cat head over it?
posted by Huck500 at 5:26 PM on July 27, 2012


"Or it could be that the history of the object matters."

Sure, if you're interested in is scarcity or bragging rights. But how does the history affect the artistic value of the painting?

If it's a good painting, it ought to be a good painting no matter who painted it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:30 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


But how does the history affect the artistic value of the painting?

Well obviously it matters when a piece was made, to determine whether or not it's groundbreaking in style or technique, or more derivative. A visually identical painting as this Bolotowsky work, produced in 2012, would not be of equivalent artistic value.

The aesthetic appreciation of the work is only one element and not necessarily the most important in determining value. Even attempting to determine whether or not something is "a good painting" requires us to know things about the artist and the method of production. Eg. If I revealed an above-average painting was done by a monkey I had trained, that would obviously matter.
posted by mek at 5:41 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can only conclude that it's really about scarcity and bragging rights. It isn't about the work itself; if that were the case, the value of the painting would be the same no matter who painted it.


This seems like a simple misunderstanding of art. Art is "valuable" for many reasons aside from its immediate aesthetic appeal. Historical context, context in the arc of the artist's oeuvre, originality and loads of other reasons.

The Diary Of Anne Frank is probably the most-translated and most-read diary in the last century . . . do you honestly think that's simply because it's the "best" diary available?

Marcel Duchamp famously exhibited a "signed" (pseudonymously) urinal. It was nothing more than that, and he didn't even make it himself. The original one is lost, but even a replica sold for nearly $2 million. But (from Wikipedia):

"In December 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals. The Independent noted in a February 2008 article that with this single work, Duchamp invented conceptual art and "severed forever the traditional link between the artist's labour and the merit of the work"."

So . . . seriously?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:49 PM on July 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


he didn't even make it himself

Actually, he did. Or had it made. It's come to light that the iron works that would have made that urinal didn't make a model like that. And if I recall correctly was unable to for some reason. There were similar not-quite-rights with most if not all of the other "readymades."

I'm pretty sure there was an FPP about that discovery (by a non art academic, so it's been pooh-poohed).

/tangent
posted by cmoj at 5:57 PM on July 27, 2012


So how much would it be worth if I bought it for $10,000 and then had this woman paint a big cat head over it?

Apparently, if you can get some art critics to fawn over it, millions.

You know, you look back at Rembrandt's stuff, and there's no doubt whatsoever of his surpassing genius; I'm sure his paintings are even more impressive in person than they are in reproduction. But, I'm sorry, this stuff is just shit, and it's a bunch of pretentious wankers who want to believe that they're important that make these pieces 'valuable'.

A Rembrandt would be valuable if there were just two people left on Earth, but this thing? Come the Rapture, someone will use it for toilet paper.
posted by Malor at 5:57 PM on July 27, 2012


Sure, if you're interested in is scarcity or bragging rights. But how does the history affect the artistic value of the painting?

If it's a good painting, it ought to be a good painting no matter who painted it.


So I think one problem here is the word "good," which is being used in an abstract sense — as if each thing in the world has a numerical value (which unfortunately we can't see) indicating its relative goodness level. In the world, "good" doesn't operate this way. It tends to come in the form "good for" or "good at" or "good in." This is why it's kind of a fool's game to assess whether or not something is "good" without context.

Alternate tack: the ask.metafilter community generally agrees that this comment is good. Understanding why it's good requires understanding first the thread it appears in, and second the overall culture of the site. Once you've got that, you have an outside sense of understanding why these particular people in this particular place in a particular moment of time consider that comment good. I'm guessing most of the people who favorited that comment consider it hilarious — but without the context, it would likely just seem damned creepy.

Art is a conversation way, way, way more complex than the conversations on metafilter, despite the fact that metafilter comments frequently tend to not make sense without some understanding of our various in-jokes, shared history, and (I'd argue) fairly identifiable house style.

I think one reason why this is difficult to sort out is that it's easy to accidentally conflate the monetary value of art (which does seem to be driven in large part by relatively uninformed people primarily interested in the bragging rights involved in owning a scarce object) with the artistic value of the art. Knowing the context shifts both of these things.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:00 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Or it could be that the history of the object matters."

Sure, if you're interested in is scarcity or bragging rights. But how does the history affect the artistic value of the painting?

If it's a good painting, it ought to be a good painting no matter who painted it.


I'm not saying that art shouldn't be judged on it's own merit, but as an archivist, I'm used to thinking about things in the terms of informational value and intrinsic value, which the Society of American Archivists defines in part as based on an item's direct relationship to a significant person, activity, event, organization, or place. Intrinsic value is independent of informational or evidential value (full definition here).

So value of anything, be it a letter or a painting, is definitely related to it's creator and it's provenance, but that value relies on a combination of a) all parties knowing who the creator (of the art or artifact) is and b) all parties recognizing or agreeing upon the historical importance of that person.

I guess in archival terms, art that is fairly universally agreed upon to have value, even if the creator is unknown (as in some pre-Renaissance objects) has artifactual value.
posted by kaybdc at 6:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the picture where they are holding it, how do they know they have got it the right way up?
posted by marienbad at 6:08 PM on July 27, 2012


There is no rigorous universally acknowledged definition of "art", let alone "good art", and there never will be. In the book "Understanding Comics", Scott McCloud defines art as any human activity not directly related to survival or reproduction.

But to my mind that is unreasonably broad. I think my own definition is that art is an attempt by the artist to communicate something that can't easily be communicated, or to do so more effectively than simple words. And it is "good" to the extent that it is successful in doing so.

The message doesn't have to be profound. "Mountains are pretty" is a perfectly legitimate message. If a landscape painting is effective, it will invoke a sense of wonder in the viewer, and will change the way he looks at real mountains thereafter.

So generally the inherent merit of the piece is a function of the extent to which it invokes an emotional response on the part of the viewer -- and I don't mean laughter or disbelief or disgust. (Though in some cases that can be a legitimate message, too. The cartoons of Chuck Jones are great art which make us laugh. But we're laughing at Bugs Bunny, not at Chuck Jones.)

Highly abstract stuff like this particular painting don't do a thing for me (except invoke laughter and disbelief) but I'm not the only person in the world, and maybe it's possible that paintings like these do involve other people who view them. But if so, it will do that no matter who painted it, and no matter who the viewer thinks painted it.

If the viewer's reaction to the work is changed as a function of their knowledge of the provenance, then the viewer is a pretentious snob.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:51 PM on July 27, 2012


I hate good art.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:07 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, you look back at Rembrandt's stuff, and there's no doubt whatsoever of his surpassing genius;

Are you kidding? His people are all fuzzy and the lighting is sorta yellowy. That's not realistic! I can only conclude that Rembrandt appreciation is based scarcity and bragging rights.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:16 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


What do you say we all chip in and buy this painting, then paint a big cat head on it anyway?
posted by orme at 7:34 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of my interest in posting this is that I've been helping prep a show on geometric abstraction. I've never really been a fan of abstract work by and large (as opposed to a coworker who considers anything representational to be sentimental claptrap), but spending time with all the paintings (including a vivid orangy-red Bolotowsky tondo) I've gotten really fond of many of them. I don't know that I would have recognized this work as definitely by an important artist, although the Weatherspoon label would have set off alarm bells in my head, but I think the piece itself is rather nice and I may not have said that before marinading in abstract art like I have been.
posted by PussKillian at 7:58 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding Rembrandt, even worse than the fuzzy yellowness is the fact that on many of his paintings, most of the brushstrokes likely aren't even his.
posted by idiopath at 9:57 PM on July 27, 2012


An artist friend of mine told me a story that seems relevant. One of his friends had a Mondriaan, and another was fond of teasing him about it ("that's just lines and squares, there's no asthetic" "no. this is art. it moves me emotionally, it's not just an intellectual exercise." "you're a philistine, it's all about the 'value' and not the work", etc.). They could really get into it.

So one summer, the teaser was taking care of his friend's house/plants/mail while the friend was on vacation. And he conceived of the ultimate way of proving his point. He painted an exact duplicate of the Mondriaan and hung it in place of the original.

The friend returned. Months went by, and the teaser laughed secretly while planning the big reveal. But before he could, one night his friend suddenly said "You know, you're right about that Mondriaan. It's just lines and squares. It's nothing."
posted by likeso at 10:34 PM on July 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


>Knowing the context shifts both of these things.

Which is in part to say that the subjective valuation of the art object is a subjective valuation of its recognized context.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:50 PM on July 27, 2012


Geometric-abstraction-haters are welcome to their sour grapes, but I grew up on '90's Designer's Republic Warp Records album covers and worked my way backwards to Suprematism and Constructivism without any context except techno, graffiti, and my friends. It's got little bearing on my own art practice, as far as I can claim to maintain one, but it's really not even a little bit hard to like. Shapes! Colors! Geometric abstraction is totally primal. You actually have to unlearn its appeal at some point. If you want pretension, look at anybody with a big chip on his/her shoulder about what falls short of some arbitrary rubric for "meaning" in visual art.
Full disclosure, Ilya Bolotowsky is semi-famous in North Carolina, where I live, for his tenure at Black Mountain College, and I have friends and family employed, now or previously, by the Weatherspoon, but mostly I'm just surprised at Metafilter's pitifully anti-intellectual response to a piece I would think of as relatively straightforward. Of course it got sort of lost, this is clearly weird stuff to lots of people. I just hate seeing this idea being put forward that what it is on its face is somehow not enough for consideration, as though your kid or whoever could really do that that well, or would ever have a reason to. Arbitrary speculation-driven over-valuation of works of visual art is arguably a thing that happens, but that is not the same as failing to at all value a work of visual art that just doesn't remind you of yourself or your favorite animal or the beach.
posted by Rustmouth Snakedrill at 1:08 AM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Value" is such a nebulous thing. Yes, this stuff happens- I own a signed Dali lithograph that came from the Goodwill for something like $20.00, which is supposedly worth somewhere between $1500.00 & $5000.00 but I've tried to sell it, and no one wants it, so effectively, my ex-wife is just out the $20.00. Art sales have apparently been in the shitter since 2007, since people are all strapped for cash & looking to sell, thus no buyers. I was hoping to wring a little cash out of that & some other pieces of art to help fund the kid's college, but utterly struck a blank across the board. Art only has monetary value if you can find a willing buyer - it has no absolute value at all.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:59 AM on July 28, 2012


I suspect the reason that your Dali has no taker is because of the countless counterfeit Dali prints known to exist.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:40 AM on July 28, 2012


So one summer, the teaser was taking care of his friend's house/plants/mail while the friend was on vacation. And he conceived of the ultimate way of proving his point. He painted an exact duplicate of the Mondriaan and hung it in place of the original.

You're friends with Lawrence Bloch?
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:15 AM on July 28, 2012


No, I am not. :)
posted by likeso at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2012


I suspect the reason that your Dali has no taker is because of the countless counterfeit Dali prints known to exist.

That may be, but the one gallery in town that deals in Dali prints wasn't even interested in authenticating it. They said that even if it was authentic, they had no interest in trying to sell it whatsoever.

I've also got some other oil paintings and screen prints that I haven't been able to drum up an iota of interest in. I own a painting by a very-much alive local painter, who would obviously be able to authenticate the painting. Paid 2 grand for it, back in about '93. Big painting, well-known artist.

Them: "Hello, gallery that represents painter X."
Me: "Hi. I own a painting by painter X and he just told me to call you. Can you help me sell my painting?"
Them: "No."

It's not exactly a seller's market, right now.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:41 PM on July 28, 2012


And he conceived of the ultimate way of proving his point. He painted an exact duplicate of the Mondriaan and hung it in place of the original.

What point is he supposed to have proven exactly? None that I can tell. If it was an exact duplicate, all he's proven is that he's a talented forger.

"You know, you're right about that Mondriaan. It's just lines and squares. It's nothing."

Yeah, um, except lines and squares really super weren't nothing during World War I when Mondrian started painting them. Appreciation of fine art REQUIRES consideration of its historical context. Without that, it's just a bunch of pretty pictures, at best.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:31 PM on July 28, 2012


Okiedokie. I'll explain, Sys Rq.

The teaser was not a Mondriaan fan. To him, Mondriaan was simply an overrated graphic designer, not an artist. At most, Mondriaan was simply exploring constructs. The teaser believed that his friend's professed love/appreciation of the painting was a pose. Or influenced by factors such as perceived cultural or financial importance, not based on the painting itself. In the teaser's mind, he could replace one painting of lines and squares with another without his friend noticing any difference, thereby proving that a painting that he had produced with no artistic intention, imbued with no creative expression would seem the same to his friend. No difference perceived? Well, then the original was not art.

Cunning plan backfired. Friend did perceive difference. Original and love restored.
Finis.
posted by likeso at 4:33 PM on July 28, 2012


It's not exactly a seller's market, right now.

That's what happens when speculative bubbles burst.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:23 PM on July 28, 2012


That's what happens when speculative bubbles burst.

I sure wish the same thing would happen to the vintage guitar market.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:33 PM on July 28, 2012


No difference perceived?

This is the part that doesn't make sense, likeso.

If there's no perceptible difference in the appearance of the painting (as you said: "an exact duplicate"), what's the point? That it's easy for anyone to paint a Mondrian? But your trickster friend is an artist, remember, so that can't be it.

Well, then the original was not art.

Huh? So if someone makes a masterful copy of a Rembrandt "produced with no artistic intention, imbued with no creative expression" just to pull one over on a sucker, Rembrandt's shit too? It does not follow.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:09 PM on July 28, 2012


That's why a photograph of a painting is just a great as a painting!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:52 PM on July 28, 2012


If there's no perceptible difference in the appearance of the painting (as you said: "an exact duplicate"), what's the point?

A painting is a physical thing - duplicating it with absolute precision is just not possible, duplicating to the level of no perceptible difference is really hard.

I vaguely remember this FPP form a few months ago about a master forger who recreated missing works from old masters, and had fooled several experts: there's a good argument to be made that the faked paintings are valuable works of art in their own right, distinct from the originals.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:54 PM on July 28, 2012


This is the part that doesn't make sense, likeso.

I know! But that's exactly what fascinates my friend and me. What did the guy see? What was the difference? My friend tells me the copy (he didn't make it, his friend the teaser did) was pretty damned good. Of course the canvas was artificially aged (I think he used tea) and the paint was not chemically identical and teaser had had to have the thing aired out, I don't remember how, but to a casual and even a somewhat inspective eye, it would pass muster. My friend says he doesn't know what the guy saw, and the guy says he didn't consciously see anything. But he knew. Well, no, he didn't know that he knew, he actually believed that he had come to realize that his friend was right: the painting was not art. And hot damn, it wasn't. (It being the copy!)

As you can imagine, this has led to all kinds of woo conversations in certain local art circles. Very fun!


Huh? So if someone makes a masterful copy of a Rembrandt "produced with no artistic intention, imbued with no creative expression" just to pull one over on a sucker, Rembrandt's shit too? It does not follow.

Yeah, I know. But we're talking about artists, here. The teaser felt that the ultimate insult was that, in one or two places, he used a ruler.
posted by likeso at 2:45 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Teaser still doesn't like Mondriaan.
posted by likeso at 2:52 AM on July 29, 2012


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