Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What makes a painting worth $68 million?

The question of the sale of The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins is about the value of the painting to Philadelphia and the people of Pennsylvania. The Trustees have the right to sell the property they control as a nonprofit corporation without the restrictions of an art museum. The same was true of the New York Library when they sold the Durand painting to the same buyer. In our culture a value is simply what someone is willing to pay for it.

The moral issue is then one of place. Does an object belong to a location? Could Stone Hedge be moved to a better place? Would independence Hall be better located in Fairmount Park? Art is transportable and can be owned by anyone.

What is lost here is the intention, not of the painter, of those who bought it and gave it to the College. Was there any thought that sometime in the future the monetary value would outstrip the intellectual value of the painting? Does this painting need to become a destination attraction, used to draw tourists to a museum far from the city that it was birthed?

There will be no public uproar because art does not matter to any but a select few. Would not the money spent be better used to provide healthcare for those who work with low pay and no health insurance?

God bless those who shop at Wal Mart, perhaps they will be able to buy a print of the Gross Clinic along with their baby formula.


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