The first time I saw David Hockney's painting Beverly Hills Housewife I scratched my head. "That's not very well done." I thought.
I didn't say anything out loud, of course, because the picture was hung in the home of the late Betty Freeman, LA's one-of-a-kind music patron, who is supposed to be the person in the painting. She had asked me to her Musicales for the very first time and I wanted to be invited back.
Today I read this LA Times article that the painting has just been sold for $7,900,000. Seven point nine million dollars! I'm scratching my head again. If Hockney's intention in painting this picture was to keep me confused, he is indeed a very great artist.
He couldn't have been out to prove what a fine painter he was. Technique seems to be the least of his concerns. Maybe he was trying to point out the banality of Beverly Hills life, picking subjects that the wealthiest buyers of art could relate to.
Most likely he was focused on marketing himself as a painter. I guess he was developing his brand. Branding adds value to a low value object and, given this outrageous price for a not terribly decorative object, Hockney must be quite the master at adding value. His real art seems to be selling himself. Actual painting? Not so important.
And I wonder who is wealthy enough to spend nearly $8 million on a wall covering. Obviously someone with lots of income. Check out this New York Times report on the highest earning hedge fund managers in 2008. Go ahead, take a guess what the top salary was. (The sickeningly large answer is below.)
Do I sound bitter? I am. I sense that the value of art results more from the importance of the artist than from the artwork itself. And I sense that the a person's salary has more to do with manipulating the system than with creating a useful product.
Our culture can be such a great disappointment to me.
I've ragged on David Hockney before - on the subject of music.
Here's an Art Talk by Edward Goldman (a bit of borderline-pretentious KCRW filler) on the subject of Betty and this picture.
Read a note Betty Freeman sent me here. (Music critic Mark Swed questioned the authenticity of the letter because Betty said she enjoyed my piece based on the music of Johannes Brahms.)
Value Tags: David Hockney. . . Betty Freeman. . . Beverly Hills Housewife
[According to the NY Times article "John Paulson, made $3.7 billion last year." That's Billion with a B. I wouldn't feel so bad if he had to pay about 90% of that in Federal income tax, but he doesn't. Sigh. That's a rant for another time.]