Quick Links Monday and A Modest Proposal : Open Thread
1. Damien Hirst sets new auction record with ‘Investment Banker in Formaldehyde' [h/t SDP]
A piece of art by Damien Hirst has set the new record for a single item at auction. The piece entitled ‘Oh Shit’ fetched £2.3bn after frantic bidding by an anonymous investor. The work, which features a Merrill Lynch employee suspended in a tank of formaldehyde secured the highest price yet paid for a single piece of banking history. [...] Meanwhile, Hirst’s agent said he was delighted at the amount raised by the sale of his latest work. ‘Although we’re a bit worried about where he should deposit the cheque.’2. Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity? [h/t E.H.]
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”3. Museums Fear Lean Days Ahead
A few years ago, an economist at the University of Chicago named David Galenson decided to find out whether this assumption about creativity was true.[...] There is no evidence, Galenson concluded, for the notion that lyric poetry is a young person’s game. Some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers. Others do their best work decades later. [...]
The examples that Galenson could not get out of his head, however, were Picasso and Cézanne. He was an art lover, and he knew their stories well. Picasso was the incandescent prodigy. His career as a serious artist began with a masterpiece, “Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas,” produced at age twenty. In short order, he painted many of the greatest works of his career—including “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” at the age of twenty-six. Picasso fit our usual ideas about genius perfectly.
Cézanne didn’t. If you go to the Cézanne room at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris—the finest collection of Cézannes in the world—the array of masterpieces you’ll find along the back wall were all painted at the end of his career. Galenson did a simple economic analysis, tabulating the prices paid at auction for paintings by Picasso and Cézanne with the ages at which they created those works. A painting done by Picasso in his mid-twenties was worth, he found, an average of four times as much as a painting done in his sixties. For Cézanne, the opposite was true. The paintings he created in his mid-sixties were valued fifteen times as highly as the paintings he created as a young man. The freshness, exuberance, and energy of youth did little for Cézanne. He was a late bloomer—and for some reason in our accounting of genius and creativity we have forgotten to make sense of the Cézannes of the world.
“We know there’s a storm at sea and we know it’s going to hit land and it could get ugly,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s director. “But we don’t know how hard it will be or when it’s coming. So we are trying to make educated guesses.”
As a result, the museum instituted a temporary hiring freeze last week as well as a 10 percent cut in its general operating budget that will be revisited in December.
Across the country directors like Mr. Lowry are bracing for the effects of an economic crisis that could change everything from the size and kinds of exhibitions a museum presents to the acquisitions it could afford and the merchandise it should offer in its shops.
A Modest Proposal
And we're back at Link #1...If MoMA is seeking new merchandise for its gift shops, might I suggest that rather than stopping with just an investment banker, Mr. Hirst consider working with a few AIG executives, a de-regulating Senator or two, and perhaps a taxidermied Texan about to officially have as much free-time on his hands as he's apparently been taking anyway the past 8 years. Yes, yes, I know Mr. Hirst's prices aren't exactly gift shop friendly, but I'm assuming subject matter weighs in pricing, even among his works, no?
Consider this an open thread on the market, genius, late-bloomers, and laughing rather than moping about it all.