Portrait of Privilege?

Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2004.

Last Wednesday’s record-breaking price of $104.2 million for Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” dramatizes the chasm that separates the art market from the contribution that great art can make to human life, a chasm that has been closed in the other great art forms. When the technology became available in the mid-1400s, great literature was liberated from the library. When the technology became available over the first half of the 1900s, great music was liberated from the concert hall. When the technology became available over the last half of the 1900s, great art remained imprisoned in the museum and the private collection.

It is as if Beethoven’s Third Symphony could be performed only at the Berlin Philharmonie, his Fifth only at London’s Royal Festival Hall, and his Ninth only at the Lincoln Center — as if anyone who couldn’t be present in the audience at the time the piece was performed had to be content with a scratchy version on 78 rpm records. Absurd? Given today’s technology, it is just as absurd that the only place one can see Picasso’s “Boy with a Pipe” is in whatever place its new owner decides to place it, and that otherwise one must be content with seeing a color plate shrunk to fit the page size of an art book.

The Wall Street Journal