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Henry Rollins: Art Should Be for Everyone, Not Just Those Who Can Afford It
Danny Liao

Henry Rollins: Art Should Be for Everyone, Not Just Those Who Can Afford It

Last week, Salvator Mundi, a painting said to be from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci, sold at Christie’s for $450 million. The painting is, apparently, of Jesus Christ. It also looks a little like the Mona Lisa. JC seems to be ever so slightly smiling, but you can’t figure out where the smile is coming from. Considering that there’s no photographic record of the man, the portrait is a perfect example of artistic license.

The incredible price brings up an interesting point as to the value of something. Salvator Mundi is now “worth” hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2005, it sold for $10,000 at an estate sale. Someone somewhere is still screaming.

At the amount it went for at Christie’s, the new owner can’t be thinking of profiting by resale, right? The downside far outweighs the upside. The buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, must have really wanted the painting. It’s an incredible amount of money for a single anything. That being said, if you can fork over half a billion dollars for a painting, you probably can afford to do it more than once.

For most of us, to spend a lot of money on something can be quite emotional to the point of being sickening. We think of what we endured to earn the money in the first place, what sacrifices we’ll be making in the future, and if we were just bloody fools to begin with. I have always found these situations/predicaments to be fascinating because they get to core aspects of the human experience. That we can want things that are not key to our survival and the reasons why we want to have them are some of the things that make us human.

Overt signs of wealth have always tripped me out. Rolls-Royces, loud jewelry — I always wonder about the performance aspects of such visible displays. It’s a lot to spend to feel good about yourself, which makes me wonder if some of these people feel really bad.

In Los Angeles, those who want you to look at them are almost art installations. I see Angelyne’s pink Corvette on the street in Los Angeles at least once a year. She used to shop at a Trader Joe’s I frequented. It was always so cool to see her — the hair, the makeup. She’s one of the things that makes L.A., L.A.

Buying things at incredible prices also speaks to the shortness of life, the inability to take it with you, and getting your kicks before it’s all over. I get it, but the relation of value to cost is complex, and I often find this aspect of it more interesting than the expensive object itself.

I have seen some insane private art collections. Many years ago, I was in the condominium of a major record executive. For as awful as he could be, he almost redeemed himself by what he had on his walls. It’s the only time outside of a museum that I’ve been in a room with more than one Picasso. It’s just not what you’re expecting to see.

Another time, I was at a house and walking with the owner down one of the hallways. Art was everywhere. Two paintings stopped me in my tracks. I know next to nothing about art but even I recognized these. I pointed to one and asked if it was real. I was told, “Don’t touch that!” Sure, that’s exactly what I was planning on doing. Yes, they were real. I can’t believe I did it but I inquired how much they cost. Without offense taken or hesitation, I was told. It’s just a different kind of money than I’ll ever understand.

I did some asking around as to how art like this changes hands and found out that I grew up with two people who actually do it. They are the ones who accompany the art when it goes to a museum somewhere in the world. They aren’t exactly handcuffed to a briefcase holding it, but pretty close. What an interesting job.

I would hate to think that as the years go on, more and more art will disappear into private collections and rarely, if ever, get to be enjoyed by we the rabble. Thankfully, there are owners of great works who realize that art was made to be seen, not to exist in a darkened storage facility or on a living room wall, and they generously allow their possessions to make the rounds. I know a person with a staggering amount of art, who has an entire staff devoted to making sure the collection is constantly on exhibit.

As far as going to a gallery and getting knocked out by some art, like right now, you can go dig Shepard Fairey’s newest opening, “Damaged.” Visit Obeygiant.com for information.

“Damaged” is up until Dec. 17. I checked it out last week and it’s almost too much to take in. I’ve been to a few of Shepard’s openings and “Damaged” is by far my favorite. To be able to look at the work up close and observe the textures, the layering, the sheer physicality of a lot of the pieces, is really cool.

What also makes it worthwhile is that “Damaged” is up one time only. You see, most of the art is spoken for. That is to say, it already belongs to someone else. After they come down from the walls, these pieces will go wherever their new owners want them. They will never be in this configuration again.

Art is for the people, for sure, but with the way things are, a lot of art is for the ones who can pay — and then, as far as we’re concerned, it is gone for good. I wonder what Leonardo would think.

Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.


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