Most expensive art photo ever

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This is the most expensive photograph ever purchased. Art dealer Philippe Segalot purchased Cindy Sherman's "Untitled #96" (1981) for $3.89 million at a Christie's auction last week. I wonder how much Segalot will flip it for. "Cindy Sherman Print Sells For $3.9 Million At Auction, The Highest Ever For A Photograph" (Popular Photography, thanks Bob Pescovitz!)


  1. Obviously I don’t have the sensitivity necessary to appreciate this piece of fine art. Or, as I might also say, WTF?

  2. I have that same linoleum in my kitchen. I hope it can become the most expensive linoleum ever.

    1. We have it in our entryway, but ours looks more red than this. Regardless, it’s fugly flooring. I’m greatly anticipating it’s removal, currently planned for this calendar year.

  3. That’s stupid. It’s not well-executed technically, or even in any way interesting. Also, ugly colors. And blurry.

  4. Was the buyer completely high? Besides being a very mediocre photo in general and a bad example of Cindy Sherman’s work, it’s just a print from an edition of 10. There’s nine more exactly like it. Are the other nine now also worth $4 million each?

    1. Money laundering.

      And while I’m joking, I’m only half joking. This isn’t an unknown way to move money around.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the photo isn’t really what was purchased.

  5. I don’t get it. I mean, she’s cute and all, but not 3.89 million dollars cute.

    Is there historical significance to this work, or something?

  6. Pretty != Valueable

    It’s a historically important and rare print. Therefore, it’s expensive.

    I’m surprised that classics like Ansel Adams’s work haven’t fetched such crazy high prices. Maybe because Adams made more prints, so they’re not as rare?

    1. I was thinking of Ansel Adams, too. There’s a gallery in the touristy part of New Orleans that stocks a lot of $10-20,000 Adams prints, as in honest-to-god, hand-crafted-by-the-master-himself (as much as a large-scale photographic print ever is), autographed prints. And these are all the famous ones.

      At the time I saw them, I remember thinking, even allowing for how awesome these would look on the wall, and how important and famous Adams is, this is crazy. The glass negatives still exist, and so does scanning technology so precise that one way or another everyone in the world could have one of these for $50 worth of emulsion and paper.

      I guess I should have been more charitable, since clearly that was a fire sale price.

    2. Paying through the nose to own (and hoard) a bit of history you otherwise had nothing to do with is just sad and pathetic, in my opinion.

  7. I’m so glad the filthy rich billionaires aren’t urinating away the money they stole from in the bank collapse. Clearly a wise use of $3.9 million here.

    1. So.. what? Are you saying that we should tax rich people who throw money down the garbage chute for fun and instead use that money to alleviate poverty, improve medical services, fund social programs and rebuild crumbling infrastructure? Do you know how crazy that sounds?!

      1. “Are you saying that we should tax rich people who throw money down the garbage chute…”

        Absolutely. Until their noses bleed. Then a little more. Seriously.

        1. But how will they stem the flow of blood if they can’t afford Hirst-designed, diamond-encrusted, imported silk handkerchiefs with platinum braiding around the edges?

          I like how it’s WRONG to be envious of (or annoyed by) someone who drops more money that you or I will likely ever make in a lifetime on a photograph that looks like it came from a Sears catalogue.

          Not that it’s a bad photo. It’s a wonderful photo. Great colours, great composition, etc. etc. etc.

          I guess we just have to learn to respect and admire the rich and the stupid useless shit they buy with their fat wads of cash (stored in offshore bank accounts to avoid the tax man that will audit us if we miscalculate a rent deduction).

  8. One of her prints sold in 2010 for close to $3 million. I’ve always liked how her work makes me ask “what the Hell is going on here?”

  9. I don’t see why this is any more appalling than spending $3.9 million on gold… or stocks… or any other investment commodity that is valuable because, well people value it. If anything, it’s much more functional than most investments (at least you can put it on your wall as art).

    Ségalot is not art-investing dummy–so while this investment may not pay off, I’m sure he has a good reason for thinking it will. If nothing else, the record purchase will probably immediately make the other Sherman photos in his possession jump in value.

  10. I really enjoyed a movie about her and a boyfriend, “Guest of Cindy Sherman” (despite its low imdb rating)–

    Cindy Sherman is an art superstar–deservedly so, I think, for what her work so often evokes and reveals about how white-woman identities are formed in whatever/whenever postmodernity is. The photo in question has most of its valuable meaning within the context of her other art, and the art by others that hers has since inspired.

    Of course, some of her series have been absurd knockoffs and blow-offs, and rich dupes still sucked them up, but such is the detritus of genuine artistic talent, hard work, and stardom.

  11. I’m not about to justify the price, but if you are critiquing the photo without knowing the history of the artist or her work then you’re just spouting ignorance.
    Doesn’t matter if you are a fan or like the photo, it is a factor in how the price was arrived at.

    1. So, for the benefit of those of us who don’t know the history and are (I believe justifiably) bewildered, would you care to enlighten us about why this print is so important?

      It’s really not fair to anyone to berate someone for ignorance and then drop the matter.

        1. So you don’t know either? I looked and didn’t find why this specific piece is ‘special’.

        2. I specifically asked another commenter for an explanation for a reason, not because I’m too lazy to Google.

          I asked because, in general, it is often the case that you can gain far more information specifically relevant to the conversation at hand by asking a knowledgeable participant. Seeking a separate information source can be less than useful; there is no guarantee the person who posted it months to years ago thought to include the information you’re looking for. Furthermore, the discussion at hand often takes specific turns and requires a degree of knowledge on the subject that is hard to come by with a cursory search.

          I also asked because, like I said before and will say again, I think it’s incredibly unfair to berate someone for being ignorant and then do NOTHING to remedy the situation. And it certainly isn’t going to entice your opponent to your point of view; and if you aren’t going to make an attempt to convince someone of your side of an argument, the only purpose of this comment thread is shouting your opinion into the Internet void, which frankly strikes me as a bit masturbatory.

          So thanks for the flippant “get thee to Google” responses; I assure you my original request was anything but slapdash and lazy.

      1. For the record, the artist wasn’t trying to create “high art” with this photo. It’s something of a parody.

        This image is from Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” series. Without the context of the other photographs, I agree that this image seems kinda dumb.

        However, the series itself is excellent. Sherman *intentionally* took ugly, poorly-composed photos, reminiscent of B-movies and foreign films. These pieces are intended to make a statement on the male gaze in filmography, among other things.

        It’s maybe not worth $3 million, but it’s still an interesting art piece nonetheless.

  12. Oh…that’s not the photo he bought. That’s a picture of his wife after she heard he bought a snapshot for 4 mill. Passed right out, the poor dear.

  13. I know I’m going to get flamed hard for this but: I never thought photography was an “art”. It’s just a picture. It doesn’t evoke an emotion in me like, say, a Van Gogh’s Starry Nights does.

    When I go to art museums, I love the paintings, the statues. I can’t say I’ve ever looked at photographs at a museum or gallery.

    1. Having had the same «WTF?» reaction when I first read the news a week ago (I’m a student photographer), I looked her up and read her bio. In it, there’s note about how when she first began studying art, she tried painting, but was getting no emotional resonance from it. And then she discovered photography, which resonated strongly, and has been doing that ever since.

    2. You should check out the work of Joel Peter-Witkin.

      His photographs are indeed works of art. Absolutely beautiful work.

  14. To everyone wondering how this could ever be possible… our culture is sick. We value all the wrong things. This is only news because of the amount of money involved, and it’s an amount I will never even come close to possessing in my lifetime; and why would I want to? Why do we need anything beyond the basics for a comfortable life? If you ask me, Philippe Segalot is a criminal. Take that 3.89 million and build some schools, feed some people, christ I’m gonna go into debt getting my frigging teeth fixed, this world is f-ed.

    1. The problem with this logic is that Philippe Ségalot acquired that money by buying & selling art. So unless he was doing this sort of thing (i.e., buying an artwork as an investment) he wouldn’t have the money to spend per your dictates of what is right & wrong.

      (Also, keep in mind the money is probably coming out of his business’s bank account, not his personal one).

    2. Dude, he’s just moving pieces of paper around. That money wasn’t destroyed and paying that much for a photo doesn’t prevent that money from then being spent on a school. “Rich person should have spent their money on X cause that I like” is a tiresome refrain.

  15. The buyer is demonstrating great faith, for one.
    Even if one understands art, the art business sure seems to defy logic.
    I love the ‘pieces’ that consist of a set of instructions, that if followed by someone other than the artist, will result in the creation of art; these conceptual works can sell for a lot of dough too, so go figure.
    Or the guys that pay a team of specialists to actually make something, then it becomes the ‘work’ of the ‘artist’.
    LeWitt, Koons, Sherman, tons of others, have a great racket. With half an idea and a surplus of confidence and effrontery you too can be a star!

  16. Very smart. Someone above mentioned that it was 1 of 10? Who knows if this person does not own a few of the other set and in a bit of time starts selling them off and because of the value that this one sold for other people will buy cheaper ones say half a mill cheaper thinking they can sell them on again at a higher price and if enough are sold they make there money back and more.

  17. @ aldasin

    You shouldn’t need to know anything about the art or the artist. The piece should stand or fall on its own merits. This one falls- it’s a crappy photo.

    1. That’s just one way of looking at and valuing art. It’s not the only way. And, you obviously have no idea why this photo is considered by others anything but “crappy.”

      @Chevan–I am not your Google.

  18. I really don’t get PHOTOGRAPHS bringing such high prices. The media by nature isn’t unique.

    1. If that is your reasoning, I suppose that you don’t think bronze sculpture is art.

      Like a print of a photograph, multiple casts are frequently made of a bronze statue. The number of casts (or prints) is known as an “edition”, which is usually noted on the piece with a number like “4/10” (indicating the 4th created in an edition of 10). In addition, there are usually a number of functionally identical artist’s proofs (designated “A.P.”). If it is a a larger piece, there may also be a maquette (kind of a small scale proof of concept).

      There are 28 castings of Rodin’s The Thinker, as well as a number of maquettes. Would you say The Thinker isn’t art?

      1. Hmm… let me re-read my statement: “I really don’t get PHOTOGRAPHS bringing such high prices. The media by nature isn’t unique.”

        In no place do I even suggest that photography isn’t art.

        1. You’re right Mister 44, I did misread your post. Also, I’m sorry if I came off as combative (I didn’t mean to), but I really don’t understand your position. Many (if not most) media used to make art are by their nature not unique.

          So the sculpture example still applies. Should sculptures command a higher price than photos because they use a couple hundred bucks of bronze rather than only a few bucks of paper and ink?

    2. To those who think the photo isn’t unique: it’s a dye transfer print: the most permanent, and most beautiful, of all classical photographic color printing techniques.

      Kodak stopped making the materials for dye transfer several years ago.

      There are only a few people left in the world (well under a dozen) who still have dye transfer materials, and know what to do with them.

      I’m not a Cindy Sherman fan, but I do understand the history of her approach and the importance of her work in the history of contemporary photography. For those of you complaining that some of us are being mean to those who don’t have any idea who she is, I’ve got a present for you.

  19. At first glance I thought this was a picture of a young boy yearning for something. Oh, and he’s crossdressing. And the picture was taken in the early 80s (1981). I actually thought that was fairly powerful. Some people would probably feel that way.

    Also, the above is a poor digital reproduction of the original even compared to the digital reproduction in the linked article.

    Having since used The Power Of The Google to find out more about this picture, it turns out this is a young woman, dare I say a boyish and unattractive one, holding a singles ad. Not as powerful to me personally, but I do see what the artist was going for.

  20. Errm what? I clearly am not sentimental enough to appreciate such art. I might as well try taking a similar photo and try selling it off as art even $3.89 would do for me.

  21. I dunno, I thought art usually required some sort of excellence to be worthwhile. Okay, so Leonardo Da Vinci’s napkin sketches might be worth something because of their historical significance, as they would show a master when he’s relaxing or practicing.

    But this photo shows no excellence to my eyes. Neither excellence in concept nor in execution. I can find old pictures in my albums sharing many qualities with this picture.
    Maybe the photographer is a greater human being than Ghandi, Einstein, Newton and Hawking rolled into one. I dunno.
    Doesn’t change that visually that picture is as appealing as random picture from a random party.

  22. Actually, I disagree with the statement “if you are critiquing the photo without knowing the history of the artist or her work then you’re just spouting ignorance”. I know the history of Cy Twombly and his work, and its context. But even before I did, I still felt the same way about his work as I do now: it’s really, really bad, terrible art.

    I admit, even though I’m an amateur photog with minor artistic aspirations, I know nothing of Ms. Sherman or her work. But I don’t really care for this photo at all. I don’t think it’s terrible, but I don’t think it’s good either. It’s just meh.

    But everyone is entitled to their own opinion…

    1. I am with you on Cy Twombly. There is an installation of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I go and look at it every time I go there, just to see if my reaction has changed or softened over time. It hasn’t after 10 years. I’m still at the point where I feel that if my entire reaction is “This person needs to be stopped from doing this to any more innocent pieces of canvas, then it is NOT art”. That is my reaction to the work of Cy Twombly.

      My reaction to the work of Cindy Sherman is a bit different – very well executed work, but I cannot see how it is anything more than mimicry of the snapshots that other people have taken. For me, if someone has to explain a piece of work to me and I can’t “appreciate” it without the explanation, then it really does not make a statement on it’s own. At that point, I cannot consider the work more than a failed effort to express the intent of the artist.

  23. @signsofrain

    There is someone with less money than you who cant believe you spent XYZ dollars on an iPad, and XYZ dollars on Internet acceess (or whatever method you are using to make this post) when they are just trying to feed themselves.

    Class envy is pretty ugly no matter how rich or poor you are.

    1. $4 million would pay for approximately 160,000 households’ Internet access.

      Just throwing that out here.

  24. Lots of puzzling comments here. I love Cindy’s work. I think this is significant because historically photography has not been considered a real “fine art” medium on par with say, oil paintings. Oil paintings = classy, right? Photography has often been viewed as merely a technical or mechanical task rather than an art form that requires the same creativity and control as traditional forms of art. Also, did I mention I love Cindy’s work? I don’t want to write a thesis, but Cindy Sherman’s work is wonderful for so many reasons and this work is particularly significant. She alludes to the art of cinema. She is playing a role – she is both artist and subject — this has a long history in photography beginning with Hippolyte Bayard’s “Self portrait as a drowned man” (1840?). She’s playing with images of women and our stereotypical depictions of them. Did I mention I love Cindy Sherman? Thanks for letting me rant.

  25. Wow, so much hate! Just because you don’t “get” artwork doesn’t mean it isn’t good. I’ve seen her photos in person, and they are absolutely amazing and I think the price tag on this one is totally justified.

    A lot of it is the detail. The photos are extremely high resolution and it imparts a sort of uncanny surreal humanity to them that affects the viewer on a deep level. It doesn’t translate well on the web. If you see one in a gallery you’ll understand what I mean.

  26. I’m a photographer and I *get* Cindy Sherman, I get how she meticulously dresses and makes-up and coiffs and stages this (I presume) self-portrait, which is what her entire brand is all about. It’s a lot of work, and hard as hell to take a self portrait that looks JUST LIKE a mid-60’s snapshot. Try it sometime! So for that she has people like me who admire her.

    But…$3 million? Gimme a break.

  27. 43 comments and not one person has offered an explanation of why this photo should sell for anywhere near the price. OK, the photographer is ‘famous’. But also apparently alive, so it’s not as if this is the last or best thing going to be produced. To the common untrained eye it looks like a pretty crummy snapshot. So what gives? How is this more valuable than most art?

    1. 43 comments and not one person has offered an explanation of why this photo should sell for anywhere near the price

      For the same reason that gas gold is $1000/ounce, Google stock is $530/share, and a broadway show is $250/ticket. Because someone is willing to pay the price.

  28. Yeah, I wasn’t condoning the price tag, just trying to show why I love this piece. The art market is beyond my means, that’s for sure! And does this purchase mean this image is privately held then and so not really accessible to the public?

  29. Hubbledeej and dagooyo… Well yeah… I have seen her art. I think I would classify it as interesting, maybe even appealing. But worth $3.89 million? Really?

    Photography is a fine art, and should be held to similar standards. This piece is devoid of lighting, emotion AND technical skill. I’m not condemning her work, I just think it must be in some kind of art bubble to fetch that amount.

    Because it’s a large format, or hanging in a gallery doesn’t make it great. You could easily find better photography, subject matter, and composition on Flickr. Seriously.

    But… more power to her. Congratulations are in order.

  30. You’d have to pay me to take that picture from you. I find it lame to say the least.

  31. quote:
    The Centerfold or Horizontals series began when the publication ArtForum commisioned Cindy Sherman to create a portfolio of images for display in the magazine.

    Inspired by the magazines horizontal format and the fact that the publication wanted Sherman to make 2 page spreads, she decided to create pictures that would mimick centerfolds from pornographic magazines. In the series, Sherman again is the subject in the images and portrays different women in each photo.

    In Untitled #96 (shown above), Sherman portrays what seems to be a young teenager.

    This image portrays the character as being innocent yet seductive because at closer inspection, you will notice that her finger points to a small “singles” ad in the newspaper.

    This is to show how the character wants to leave her young single life and is ready to find her man, showing how she’s progressed from a young teenager to a woman.

    Critics panned the series, claiming that Sherman was reaffirming sexist stereotypes. Eventually, ArtForum rejected the series and the images were never published in the magazine.

  32. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many Philistines gloating proudly in the same place. “I’m 38 years old and what is this?”

  33. Context is important to all art. It’s what makes Kazimir Malevich’s ” Black Square” important and not just something that anyone could do. It has to do with when it was made, what it is reacting to, and the environment the artist was in. If I was to paint a renaissance-style painting today, the context would immediately give it a meaning that it didn’t have 500 years ago

  34. The photographer should take another picture of that girl without clothes in the same pose and charge twice as much!

  35. this looks shopped. i can tell from the pixels and from seeing quite a bit of linoleum in my time.

  36. There’s a big difference between the art process and the art market. While a certain symbiosis exists, there is a disconnect when people start conversations like this. The chance that Sherman will reap direct benefits of this sale monetarily are minimal. Although it certainly will cause a feeding frenzy amongst collectors of her work and up her stature in the art market world. But that’s different than the artist world. Just sayin…

  37. Who is it that said that modern art is nothing but exchanging bragging rights for the filthy rich ? And in the process they get tax breaks and create nothing of value. As usual.

    1. That has nothing to do with “modern” art (and Sherman isn’t a modern artist anyway). The art market has pretty much always been this way, at least since the Renaissance. As far as value, well, what you may value I may find wanting and vice versa.

  38. This is not art. It’s a by-product of art, which is the process used to conceptualize, plan and execute the piece. This is fawning over the dead body of what used to be art.

  39. News flash…. most art, especially stuff over a couple hundred years old, was created and survived because of rich people. Thank you rich people!

    1. BINGO! I really never, ever, ever understand people who complain about how high art goes for. Folks, art is ironically the only world in which “trickle down” economics ever consistently works. Encourage people with massive disposable incomes to pay artists: Artists need that kind of funding!

  40. One man’s trash is another man’s gold,
    But to tell which is which
    Most people must wait
    To see how it’s bought and sold.

  41. I just researched Cindy Sherman for about an hour. Still not impressed. Sorry, I tried to care a little bit and couldn’t.

  42. Actual artistic merit has little to do with the “value” of art — no doubt there are ten thousand Facebook profile pictures better executed and/or more interesting artistically than this, yet their value is essentially zero.

    Nor is technical perfection the main factor in either the artistic merit of a work of art, nor its economic value. Too much perfection is a bad thing.

    All that said, this is silly.

  43. i love Cindy Sherman’s early work. especially this photo and her photos of rotting food. the fact that she’s a female artist, let alone a female photographer, getting any kind of recognition or even these kinds of auction prices, should be enough for anyone to give her a hand. my biggest question is, how big was the original edition of prints and were there subsequent editions? i believe that all of her work around this time are film stills from which she selected the best ones.

    i realize that most people in the world, let alone those replying to a website posting, don’t know jackshit about art but, that doesn’t make it stupid, or bad or criminal. it just makes it one thing in a list of many others that one might not know much about. it seems like a website like this one that makes at least some effort to bring some smarts into the mix would inspire some kind of respectful curiosity. this photo didn’t get to be worth $3.8 million dollars, or whatever, on a whim. there’s a back story and just as it’s my own responsibility to educate myself on things that i’m curious about, or that maybe spark my ire, so it is yours to do a little digging. i will grant that there are, surprisingly enough, pretty much zero places on the net to get any kind of art education (there’s not even one reputable central resource) there are lots and lots of books out there that are easy enough to find. world-class art is not just some feel-good, subjective experience based on personal interpretation. if you don’t get it then you just don’t get it. and while i do grant that there’s a certain amount of seeming obfuscation in most contemporary art, you have to remember that all art made since 1960 carries its own critique within it to guard against not only an overly easy interpretation but also against easy commodification (i can’t believe i just typed the previous in defense of a $3.8 million photo).

    what makes her work important is that during the context of the early 1980’s she was one of the first artists to begin exploring identity and how it is determined and shaped by race, class and gender in a serious way. this photo is part of a whole series where she posed herself (she only photographs herself) in various scenarios and costumes that bore this out; tennis mom, house keeper, lovelorn dreamer on kitchen floor… in states dictated by: the male gaze, racism, sexism etc. while i find her more current work to be less interesting, this photo and those that bookend it have helped shape the current discourse of art by taking it out of the class trappings that the uninitiated require to identify “Art.”

  44. I know I’m going to get flamed hard for this but: I never thought photography was an “art”. It’s just a picture. It doesn’t evoke an emotion in me like, say, a Van Gogh’s Starry Nights does.

    When I go to art museums, I love the paintings, the statues. I can’t say I’ve ever looked at photographs at a museum or gallery.

    Photography is not art, then panting is only putting colors on canvas, then music is only about producing sound, then sculpture is only about putting stuff together, then poetry and literature is only about putting word after another. They are all equally art, it is the history, the execution, the subject among other things that matter, the medium less so.

    You’re welcome!

    1. Replying to myself. For some reason the posted comment differed from the preview. My quote block that worked when previewing is no longer there, nor is the “replied to …” part. A bug?

    2. But all those things you cited- they make something out of nothing. There was no song, no story, no Starry Night before the art was created.

      A photograph is just a mechanical reproduction of something that already exists.

    3. When I go to art museums, I love the paintings, the statues. I can’t say I’ve ever looked at photographs at a museum or gallery.

      I used to think this way until I started seeking out photos in person. It’s a profoundly different experience.

      And to Anon #48:

      To the common untrained eye it looks like a pretty crummy snapshot. So what gives? How is this more valuable than most art?

      You obviously have not looked at a lot of snapshots. Most people can’t take photos on any level. Most can’t compose them, don’t understand the right moment to take a shot or any aspect of what differentiates a good photo from a bad one.

      In general the canard of “I can do that” really never works in art on any level. Unless you pioneer an idea and know how to replicate, you have no clue what you are doing and are just envious someone else is getting recognition for the work they have done.

  45. Who knows, it might be the enlarged portion of my brain that handles post-facto purchase justification… but I actually find something about this photograph really weirdly entrancing and captivating.

  46. $3.89 million is ridiculous but then, I don’t care, it’s someone else’s money.

    But, for what it’s worth, I remember this photo, fondly, and the last time I saw it must have been 25 years ago.

  47. The price doesn’t really shock me or surprise me. All it takes is two stubborn bidders and things can get out of control and skyrocket.

    There are people who make $100 million a year or cash in stock options etc. so dropping $3.89M isn’t much of an issue.

    The wonderful thing about collecting is that we all don’t need to like or value the same things.

  48. as long as we’re talking subjectivity vs. actual dollar value, from the linked article….

    “and “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” by Urs Fisher, an enormous, 35,000-pound bright-yellow teddy bear which had been in front of the Seagram building in New York for the last month sold for $6.8 million”

  49. Are you all philistines? Really?

    Art is not about producing pretty pictures. One does not criticize an art photograph on technical grounds anymore than one criticizes Jackson Pollock for not make a pretty landscape of a deer by a lake.

    Cindy Sherman is a conceptual arts and so not strictly speaking a photographer. She, nor any other contemporary artist, is not interested in producing something that matches your sofa. Fine art is a conversation conducted in a visual language that assumes at least some sort of familiarity on the part of the viewer with the history of art and “what it is about”.

    In this photo Cindy, she is famous for placing herself in her photos, is bathed in orange light and holding a classified ad. That it is slightly out of focus is deliberate and not a mistake. That the linoleum, the clothes and mood of the piece bespeak a kitschy 50’s era is also deliberate. The viewers vantage point, that we are looking down on the girl, and how she is framed are also important.

    All modern artists of any note are saying something, they are talking to you, well maybe not you, but someone. They have something to say. It might be a worth one’s while to find out what that is.

    Here, I’ll help you out:


    Cindy Sherman’s Untitled is the outstanding example of work from her highly acclaimed Centerfolds series. Artforum commissioned the series as a special project for magazine in 1981, and the twelve images are among the most important of Sherman’s career. This particular image is one of the most sought-after and is appearing at auction for the first time. Its significance within Sherman’s body of work is demonstrated by its inclusion in the permanent collection of many prestigious museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Akron Art Museum in Ohio and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Untitled showcases all the themes and ideas of Sherman’s best work from this period, yet it is also the most paradoxical of the series. Sherman composed the image clearly, but left the narrative behind it deliberately ambiguous. Sherman adopted the personae of a teenage girl in this large, almost life-size photograph – lying supine on the floor, clutching a page torn from the newspaper classifieds. Who is this girl? Why is she lying on the floor? Is she scheming to find true love, or the brokenhearted victim of a failed love affair? The work exudes shock and confrontation through its scale and the boldness of Sherman’s tight compositional framing, yet the figure at the work’s center is also endearing and curiously vulnerable. Sherman places these conflicts at her work’s very heart, as she questions, not only the medium of photography, but also our wider assumptions about gender and truth in the modern world.

    In Untitled , Sherman builds on the universal idea of the centerfold taken from countless “girlie” magazines such as Playboy, presenting us with the image of an anxious adolescent girl lying on her floor. Unlike her earlier Film Stills series, the person projected here is not an available seductress presented for the male gaze but instead an emotionally ambiguous adolescent. The girl in the gingham dress does not meet our gaze but instead looks off into the middle distance, as if distracted by dreams of an unrequited love affair or a romance that is still a figment of her imagination. However her schoolgirl naivety is betrayed by her freshly painted blood red nails, heavily rouged cheeks and bright red lipstick – all signs of burgeoning sexuality, all enhanced by the provocative upturned hem of her skirt. These works remained tinged with the strong hint of sexuality that runs through much of Sherman’s work, although they are not overtly sexual, like her pin-ups from the Film Stills series. “There is something vaguely erotic about the pictures and the prone [sic] position of most of the women in their simultaneous suggestion of fear and seduction. Caught in a raw emotional state, unaware of anyone’s gaze, these women emerge put of the darkness, like the subconscious itself”


    Good art makes you think, it asks that you do some work and not just sit there passively receiving an image labeled “This is art, it is pretty.”

    1. Are you all philistines? Really?

      No, but I certainly am. Feel free to disregard MHO.

      I understand that this particular work is valuable. If two people are willing to bid so high to acquire it, and they aren’t actually in cahoots with each other, then the piece has succeeded in selling for its fair market value. If nothing else, that displays the subjectivity of its value to us proles, but some of you highfalutin connoisseurs seem to be trying to insist on assigning some intrinsic objective value to Untitled #96 that we rubes simply fail to understand, either through willful ignorance, crap taste, or a failure to achieve an enlightened sensibility approaching your own.

      You can school us all you want on the “importance” of the work. You can remind us that generic attractiveness matters very little (or not at all) when it comes to artistic (or monetary) value. But you surely understand, do you not, why a few expressions of disbelief may emerge when we learn that this is apparently the most valuable photograph on the face of the earth. Or at least the most expensive one that has come to market so far. Even the unschooled, unlettered, and unwashed among us have seen a great many examples of photography that we, in our pathetically unqualified judgment, might deem considerably more valuable than this floor-wax ad here. You might assume that we hillbilly dipshits want to indulge ourselves in loudly proclaiming a need for some serious SPF ‘neath the emperor’s raiment because by golly it’s outrageous that the snooty-snoots will pay millions for a soft-focus ode to sunburn and Creamsicles, and that even snootier types will hasten to assure us (and themselves) that if only we could have read the right books, attended slightly finer institutions, and learned how to properly stroke our chinwhiskers instead of wasting our lives playing Halo and rooting for cigarette butts in the gutter, we would understand why the price tag was perfectly appropriate.

      I’m tickled pink that Bruneau is “affronted.” I’m laughing out loud at Thebes’ suggestion that only those people in the art-dealing circles are qualified to judge whether or not Segalot is a fool for spending so much. Hey, sure, if he unloads it at a profit then how stupid could he be? Well, is profitability the only measure of intelligent art investment? If it is, I’m extra glad I can’t afford to move in those circles; I’d feel better being a real estate developer.

      And noen, it doesn’t help to just quote the Christie’s brochure; that copy is written expressly to sell the damned thing.

      The work exudes shock and confrontation through its scale and the boldness of Sherman’s tight compositional framing, yet the figure at the work’s center is also endearing and curiously vulnerable. Sherman places these conflicts at her work’s very heart, as she questions, not only the medium of photography, but also our wider assumptions about gender and truth in the modern world.

      Yes, yes, yes. “Shock and confrontation through its scale and the boldness of” blahblahblah. Here’s the picture, this is what it does, this is how you should feel about it. This is the consensus view of those erudite, tasteful, and well-heeled enough to appreciate it. You may have seen prettier images, or larger ones, or older ones, or ones that took more effort and time to compose, or ones that capture a once-in-several-lifetimes moment in achingly evocative expressiveness, but if you wanna lay down the smart money on pure photographic value, look no further than the orange chick sprawled on the kitchen floor. Your gallery/vault/upstairs loo is simply incomplete without it.

      That this objet d’art has an interesting message and a challenging story helps its case with us very little. All Pescovitz needed to say was, “just look at it.” That is, after all, what photography is for.

      Go ahead and harrumph about us philistines. What the fuck do we know? I’ve bitched a few times about how someone paid well over two million dollars for a bone-stock 1971 Plymouth and actually had to outbid someone else to do it. It’s easy enough to just say there’s no accounting for taste, and that many of the rich folk out there have much more dollars than sense.

      But even in our culturally-enfeebled ignorance and crass tastelessness, we’re still gonna keep laughing our asses off at people who blow such obscene sums on items that strike us as unworthy, and at those who would defend them.

      It’s one of the perks of the underclass, you understand.

      1. Well said, Mr Peterson: I only wish to add, that if anybody ever tries to tell you that markets are rational, you can spit in their eye and tell them it’s from me.

      2. Fascinating — a totally parochial attitude.

        “If only we could have read the right books, attended slightly finer institutions, and learned how to properly stroke our chinwhiskers instead of wasting our lives playing Halo and rooting for cigarette butts in the gutter, we would understand why the price tag was perfectly appropriate.”


        Thank you, noen, that was helpful.

      3. Mr. Petersen, you’ve also been selective in your response. My affrontedness has everything to do with the noxious tone of Pescovitz’ post, and nothing to do with any and all so-called objective sense of value. In fact, work such as Sherman’s tends to object to and objective valuation. In fact, your (and others’) sense of the value of art being linked to an aesthetic sensibility that you seem to find self-evident (and which Antinous has rightly tied to European oil painting [pre 1920 as I mentioned]) is the more objectivist characterization. It’s funny that you would peg the art world as elitist; funny, because although it is, there’s a reciprocal sort of anti-elitism (which adds up to about the same in the end) which comes from the other side.

        Anyway,if you care so little for the work, why the hell would any of you give a shit about how much it’s (not) worth? Why don’t you go back to halo and leave us alone? We don’t stop you from playing halo or whatever.

        1. “Anyway,if you care so little for the work, why the hell would any of you give a shit about how much it’s (not) worth? Why don’t you go back to halo and leave us alone? We don’t stop you from playing halo or whatever.”

          So if we don’t want to buy into whatever baggage is associated with a picture we shouldn’t have an opinion and should shut up, then? If you buy into it, it shouldn’t matter what other people think.

          None of the associated backstory exists. It doesn’t make you a better person if you think it matters. If you weren’t told what to think about it you wouldn’t think it, you’d think something else about the picture. If everyone forgot about it all that would be left would be the picture, which can only stand on its own so much.

          The art crowd’s opinion really isn’t any more valid than anyone else’s. Just because you were let in on the little secret doesn’t make it so. If you felt strongly about your position you probably wouldn’t be so insecure about it.

        2. My affrontedness has everything to do with the noxious tone of Pescovitz’ post, and nothing to do with any and all so-called objective sense of value.

          Come now, sir… “noxious”? Terse, certainly. Dismissive, probably. Noxious?

          Remember, I’m the one who snidely referred to it as a “floor wax ad,” mostly to get the goats of those (not necessarily including you) who fall over themselves defending the merits of this work’s valuation, not through any sort of critical analysis of their own, nor through an enumeration of the conceptual and visual and technical and emotional virtues of the work itself which contribute to its fame within the modern art world, but by simply tut-tutting over the failure of the BB commenters to “get it” because of their small minds, parochial attitudes, lowbrow tastes, uncultured hickdom, and cavernously big mouths. David just posted the thing, mentioning how much it sold for, and wondering if the buyer intends to profit right away or hang onto it for a while. If he was looking for outrage from the commentariat, we’re the ones who supplied it. You can’t blame him for fomenting our proletarian bile. If we weren’t such nincompoops, you’d be reading sixscore versions of “How ’bout that! Glad to see Sherman’s work is finally getting its due!”

          In fact, work such as Sherman’s tends to object to and objective valuation. In fact, your (and others’) sense of the value of art being linked to an aesthetic sensibility that you seem to find self-evident (and which Antinous has rightly tied to European oil painting [pre 1920 as I mentioned]) is the more objectivist characterization.

          If I were to rise above my station (and I’m writing from America, where we’re officially encouraged to do so, hoist by our own bootstraps whenever necessary) and start appraising art myself, it might surprise you to know that I’d include a whole host of factors in my consideration. I’d be thinking in terms of composition, emotional impact, originality, intent, rarity, historical significance, influence, physical condition, skill… the list goes on. And right now (since I have no art appraisal education) I’d hazard a guess that most of these factors would fall into the subjective category. Still, one has to set what looks like a reasonable ballpark price, and so one does. It occurs to me that there must also be a certain degree of consensus in that world, because it would have to take quite a stout ego to resist the temptation to murmur, “Well… what do you think?” upon occasion.

          I really don’t believe my uninformed opinion to be as valuable as an informed one (unlike a great many of my fellow voices on the Web). I don’t even bother to proclaim, “But I know what I like!” simply because I’m often very surprised by what I end up liking. The other night, probably because I got bored of playing Halo, I sat through Roland Emmerich’s execrable movie about dropping an aircraft carrier on the White House, 2112. At some point in the movie, a couple of years before the public is informed that the world’s gonna end by extreme geological indigestion, certain in-the-know government operatives begin swapping selected art masterpieces for clever fakes, so that the originals might be preserved for posterity somewhere safe from all the earthquakes, volcanism, tsunamis and so forth. Space being limited, it seems there would have had to have been a consensus on which works were preserved and which were doomed to eventual destruction. I suppose our Real World has a similar consensus, in that anyone with half an education is familiar with works by da Vinci, Rodin, Adams, Warhol, Lloyd Wright, Seurat, Michelangelo, Picasso, Turner, and those artists whose names are lost to antiquity who brought us such wonders as the Moai of Easter Island, the Lascaux cave paintings, and the Venus of Willendorf. It’s true that a great many currently beloved artists went wholly unrecognized in their lifetimes, some dying pauper’s deaths without ever feeling a whisper of appreciation from the masses for their works. The consensus often takes decades or more to coalesce, and some once-celebrated artists fall so completely out of fashion as to be utterly unknown in less than a generation.

          Still. The “greats” aren’t just the pop stars of their medium. A great many people know and love the Mona Lisa, The Starry Night, Monet’s Water Lilies, or Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. But Jackson Pollock has a sizable following as well, and people have mentioned earlier in the thread how much some of Warhol’s works have sold for in recent times, so somebody must love his stuff too. The thing is, some works have a more universal appeal than others, and arguing over which ones are more important is a fool’s game, if you ask me. Without looking it up, I’d hazard a guess that Dizzy Gillespie sold more records than Ornette Coleman. Doesn’t mean he’s more important. But if someone auctioned off Dizzy’s bent trumpet and Ornette’s first plastic saxophone, which would go for more? I’d guess that it would be the guy with the most popular appeal, for whatever that’s worth. And as it turns out, Dizzy’s horn is already in the Smithsonian.

          It’s funny that you would peg the art world as elitist; funny, because although it is, there’s a reciprocal sort of anti-elitism (which adds up to about the same in the end) which comes from the other side.

          I’m not really pegging the art world, in and of itself, as elitist, just that there are arrogant elitists in the art world. I’m a populist in that I like to think that art of all kinds is a gift to humanity as a whole. I don’t expect everyone to get the same level of benefit from any given artwork by any means, but it still strikes me as slightly ridiculous when the most extraordinarily highly-valued artworks are ones of which hoi polloi may have no knowledge or appreciation whatsoever. Really, I get that this photograph is an important, influential artwork in great demand by the movers and shakers in the art world. But the most expensive photograph ever sold? Ever? Really?

          Anyway,if you care so little for the work, why the hell would any of you give a shit about how much it’s (not) worth? Why don’t you go back to halo and leave us alone? We don’t stop you from playing halo or whatever.

          You don’t see any of us storming the gates, do you? We’re just shaking our heads in disbelief. Millions of dollars for what really is a perfectly ordinary photograph. And by that I do not mean that I or anyone else could have done it just as well or better. I mean that if anyone had gone up to Ms Sherman after she first printed that photograph and told her, “Hey Cindy–I won’t mention any actual dollar amounts, but do you realize that in thirty years this orange one will sell for the highest auction price a photograph has ever achieved?” I can’t picture her reaction, since I don’t know her at all. I suspect mirth might have resulted.

          Anyway, I haven’t played Halo in ages. It’s L.A. Noire this week.

    2. Thanks, noen — hoping to find something like that was exactly why I clicked through to read the comments.

    3. All modern artists of any note are saying something, they are talking to you, well maybe not you, but someone…Good art makes you think.

      Words are an incredibly powerful means of conveying information. Indeed, they also very closely map to how we consciously reason. Nevertheless, words fail at capturing and evoking some very powerful and important experiences, namely when it comes to emotions. Hearing that someone is “overjoyed” does not adequately convey their experience, for instance. Likewise, most people would do more than just say “I love you” to express their feeling to the person they love – we resort to poetry, flowers, romantic events, etc. specifically because our words fail us.

      How is all of this relevant to art? Simple. The difference between art and philosophy is that the best of the latter makes us think and feel (a little), while the best of the former makes us feel and think (a little). Evoking complex and rare emotions is, of course, a very, very tough thing to do. Likely as a result, it now seems to have become quite popular for postmodernist artists to attempt to position their work as more of a ‘thinky’ than a ‘feely’ (with the feelings evoked typically falling somewhere in the range of shock, outrage, confusion, and disgust, which are the most trivial and easily evoked human feelings). It’s still fair to do this, I suppose, though for the sake of classificational clarity I would term them philosophers rather than artists (with the effect of the work, in my opinion, being significantly more important than the medium chosen for it). The critical problem of a huge chunk of conceptual, postmodernist ‘art’, however, then becomes that when one actually turns to words the thoughts and the messages that these works are actually conveying, one discovers how incredibly simplistic, vacuous, and inconsequential the things that those artists “have to say” are.

  50. Just the super rich waving their c*ck in your face once again. Until you (read: the people) grow the balls to rise up and slay them, stop acting surprized …

  51. I read that the sellers acquired it in 1981, the year it was taken. Wonder how much Sherman got for it?

  52. Wow, I amazed at all the people here wishing that Philippe Segalot be forced to spend business capital, made from speculating on the art market, in ways that would benefit themselves or their peers. The extraordinary price of this print might well build schools or provide internet to many households, instead it is presumably going to provide a return on the investment for a professional dealer. If you want to complain about Capitalism run amok you could better look at the military industrial complex, which is fed by OUR tax dollars rather than the pockets of art speculators. How many “smart bombs” could be bought and deployed with that money… not nearly as many as we’re dropping on the far side of the planet each day.

    @Jeremiah Cornelius
    Her hand probably has a shutter release bulb in it under the newspaper bit. This series of work is a group of self portraits exploring society’s image of women. She incorporates objects both for their value in adding to her art, and to cunningly hide her shutter release.

    About the price and “quality” of the art. Its good art and its important as art. That some think it is a technically “poor” photograph is irrelevant. I’d guess it went for so much more than her other prints from the series because few of that series were color, and it made significant and novel use of color. That its valuable is fairly obvious unless you think Segalot is an idiot, but if thats the case I’d like to know your background dealing high-end fine art.

  53. Four years ago this week, Andy Warhol’s 1963 “Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I)” sold for $71.72 million.

    That figure — which would buy all ten signed, numbered and dated prints of Sherman’s “Untitled #96” at the above price, leaving $32.8 million in change — was spent on a silkscreen print of a photo that had been clipped from the pages of Newsweek.

  54. I’m affronted and disgusted by David Pescovitz’ utterly disingenuous framing of this. First of all, he hasn’t mentioned anything about this artist and her work other than the price of a single photo being sold at auction, whose proceeds do not go anywhere near her pocket. It’s not as if she set the price, bid, or paid for the work.

    Secondly, why ought there to be a connection between the quality of a work and it’s price? Notwithstanding the importance of the work, which is one of the Untitled Film Stills, which anyone with access to google can learn about in a second, even if it were a crappy work, the price should have no bearing on the way we read it. There are loads of crummy Picassos, Leonardo’s snot-stained rags that also had a quick sketch on them, and lurid, awful Thomas Kinkade paintings (that differ only slightly from highly revered proto-impressionist works and various [now less celebrated but in their time revered] classicist works) that fetch unduly high prices because they’ve been touched by a body. In any case, I read a significant degree of dismissal in Pescovitz’ text, due to its brevity and brusqueness, for which I hold accountable for the uninformed and kneejerk reactions here. If he had meant to comment in a constructive way, he oughtn’t have posted in the tone he did.

    Thirdly, I feel that the art discourse on boingboing generally is atrocious, listing wildly to the “bullshit pop surrealist garbage” and “photos of peculiar things” categories, and therefore oughn’t go anywhere near passing judgement on works that request and require time or effort to appreciate. Culture changes, finds new significance, modifies its processes and predilections, and so forth, over time. Complaining about art one doesn’t understand without even attempting to inform oneself about it is tantamount to complaining about the kids these days– one comes off as out of touch at best, and ignorant at worst. Noone on this site is likely to say that we should only use technology, read books, listen to music, wear clothes, or eat food developed/invented/fashionable previous to 1920, but it’s just about par for the course to say this about art.

  55. I’m not surprised that the Boing Boing community is full of people who don’t think this piece of art is worth much. This is the same community that thinks being forced to pay for the movies and music they want is an infringement of their first amendment rights and tantamount to a government takeover.

  56. For those that are questioning the validity of this photo, here is a brief explanation:
    This photo is one of ten in a series – not one of ten of the same photo. She is the person in the image, as with all of her images. The series was commissioned by an art magazine very early in her career. The magazine rejected the images, which makes the photo more significant because she later went on to become very famous, and because of the social significance of what the series was about.

    Here is a link; educate yourselves:

  57. Funny how nobody bats an eyelid at the fact that Warhol’s self-portrait sold for almost exactly 10 times as much at the same auction. The kicker is that it’s also a photograph(s), just with a little more post-processing.

  58. If I have a Jasper Johns painting, I know I have the only one like it, and no one can ever make a copy. Even a great forgery or a high-res scan will not hold the fidelity of the original from the original.

    You are right, other media is replicable, such as etchings and some sculpture. Photography is just even more at the ready to be made over and over – and each one as good as the original.

    It just seems to me if I want another Jasper Johns like mine, I can’t. If I want another Rodin etching, I can’t (though modern prints are made from his etchings, they don’t hold the fidelity of the original runs). If I want another “Thinker”, I can’t. If I want another photograph, I could almost go to Wal-mart and make one.

    Now I realize that photographers make small print runs of their work, creating scarcity and uniqueness. I guess if one were to take the negative and destroy it, then any remaining prints would retain their uniqueness. I guess therein lies why photographs can command high prices if there are only a very limited run of prints.

    Then again Warhol sells for stupid prices and the man was an art machine. (I love pop art, but hate Warhol. Go figure.)

    I will admit I do have a bit of snobbery in the form of holding on to a hierarchy of art (oil painting, FTW!), but I truly believe ANYTHING can be art (though not every thing is ‘good’ art.)

    So you raise some good points and I hope I have explained my thoughts on it better.

  59. BB’s commentariat is, to put it mildly, art-hostile. Unless it’s a cartoon of a scantily clad superheroine. In that case they’ll praise the art but point out that they (or their five year-old) could have done it themselves. For cheaper. And that the artist has too much time on his or her hands.

    Conceptual art gets the most complaints; unsurprising given the local inability to comprehend subtext or figurative language.

    Crafts are popular as long as they’re being sold for less than the cost of the materials.

    Photography’s not a real art because anyone can do it (see comment on subtext.) Or Diane Arbus just hits way too close to home.

    Graffiti IS NOT ART. And get off my lawn.

    Oil painting continues to occupy its inexplicable position at the top of the Eurocentric Bourgeois Art Pyramid. People rarely grouse about a Picasso selling for fifty million even though he seems to have done roughly one trillion paintings in his lifetime.

    In summation: Tits or GTFO.

    1. Antinous, an actual post of your comment ought to be created.

      Boing Boing attracting such an art/artist-averse crowd is an interesting phenomenon. It merits exploration.

  60. this thread is a lot more interesting than the photo.

    I don’t like the photo and the price it sold for seems to me a function of the market. the artistic merit (which, despite my dislike, is totally valid) has been overtaken by speculation. the price tag is akin to microsoft buying skype for 8.5 billion. It ain’t worth 8.5bn, but it makes the buyer visible and “respectable” in the sphere it wishes to be part of.

    but the response of the happy mutants is telling. just remember, the reason you don’t understand modern art doesn’t have anything to do with how smart you are or how “good” of an education you have or don’t have.

    the reason you don’t understand it is that you have come in on the last five minutes of a thousand-year-old conversation.

    even more telling, those posters ITT that DO understand the conversation seem to take themselves and their knowledge a bit too seriously and are defending a pretty uninteresting photo. not an artistically devoid photo. not–as some posters argue–a crappy, untalented photo. but nonetheless, uninteresting overall, IMO.

    this thread is a lot more interesting than the photo.

    1. the reason you don’t understand modern art doesn’t have anything to do with how smart you are or how “good” of an education you have or don’t have.

      the reason you don’t understand it is that you have come in on the last five minutes of a thousand-year-old conversation.

      This does not follow. I presume most (if not all) of BB readers (to say nothing of art critics) are considerably younger than a thousand years. Understanding of art comes with exposure to it, and it might be argued that modern art operates at a bit of a disadvantage simply because so many people haven’t had an opportunity to get exposed to it, to gain familiarity with it, to come to terms with it, because modern art is, by definition, fairly young and new. The classics aren’t classics just because they’re old, but it does take time for works to ascend to that level of popular reverence. And understanding and/or appreciation isn’t guaranteed to come with the passage of time. The Venus of Willendorf doesn’t speak to me any more effectively than Untitled #96, nor does Munch’s Scream, nor van Gogh’s Starry Night. And yet I could stare at Steve McCurry’s iconic portrait of Sharbat Gula all the livelong day and never cease being amazed. (If that photo had sold for millions I wouldn’t bat an eye, for even if it isn’t a carefully-composed meditation on desire and innocence and sexism, it still speaks volumes to me… and of course I am not alone.)

      The thing is, modern art too often needs its apologists because otherwise it becomes inundated with scorn from people who look at Jeff Koons’ balloon animals, or works like Untitled #96, as trite, lightweight, ephemeral kitsch with a profound poverty of depth and meaning. The art world is wide and deep, and there’s certainly room in the respectable parts of it for all the works we’ve mentioned here… certainly nobody needs my permission to idolize what they will, because from top to bottom I remain an unsophisticated dude who was raised in a trailer park, whose mind resists being pried open as far as perhaps it should. But it’s at moments like this, with Untitled #96’s record-breaking pricetag, or when one of Koons’ things gets sold for eight figures, or when one of Banksy’s stencils gets carved out of a wall for preservation sparking unending controversy, that the temptation becomes irresistible to entertain suspicions that the people driving up the prices of these things really are building castles in the air out of cotton candy, wishful thinking, and a midnight terror that someone whose good opinion they desperately crave might someday challenge their judgment on what is actually Important… and they might not say the right thing in response.

      Now please try to understand that this is not necessarily a critique aimed at modern art aficionados in general. The people who actually shell out the big bucks for these works may fancy themselves tastemakers, and once they’ve thrown enough cash around they’ll certainly have influenced the tastes of many, but I resist the notion that a near-bottomless bank account translates into an infallible artistic sensibility. My populist instinct is to hold my nose and trust the wisdom of the masses, such as it is, when it comes to things like this. I once took a lovely photograph of a cemetery in Edinburgh, and I never tire of looking at it. I like it so much that if I were a billionaire, I’d pay some seriously big bucks to own it… not because it would be a sound investment, but because I like it that much. All it would take is for some devil-may-care playboy to drop four million bucks on an otherwise unknown photograph like that and suddenly the art photography world is turned on its ear. Who’s that brilliant new photographer? Where’d that amazing picture come from? What’s the history, what’s the intent, what does it all mean? In the end, history would judge the picture’s value, and that comes down to what We The People think of it.

      I find it incredibly hard to imagine that all the record-breaking prices paid for artworks took place as the result of careful cost/benefit analysis or other investment research. At least some high-dollar art is purchased just because the purchaser subjectively digs it, popular opinion be damned. The language extolling the supreme merits of Untitled #96, as quoted by noen above, is breathless in its adulation and practically begs to be mocked. But even if its every word were categorically, undeniably true, it would still fail to give sufficient reason why this photograph is more valuable than any photograph on the worldwide market today. But really, it doesn’t need to, if Segalot likes it enough, or judges that it’ll hold that value or appreciate even more. Still, all the context and background information in the world won’t change the fact that a great many of us will shake our heads and mutter, “Four million dollars… for that?!”

  61. The rich, Bill Maher reminds us, don’t think like those who are not rich.

    The class divide is about money and what experiences money can buy, not about the ability to appreciate those experiences.

    I have no problem finding merit in the photo, Sherman’s body of work and in photography as an art form. I’ve spent hundreds of hours looking at photos and critiquing them. I’ve never seen a photo worth $3.89 million, nor is there any other artwork I’d pay that amount for. It boils down to what I’m humanly capable of experiencing.

    There is some very good original artwork on my walls, purchased for a tiny fraction of $3.89M. Several years ago I ceased to notice they were there, except to dust them. My eyes and mind have given them all the consideration I’m capable of. If I stand before them, I’m still able to recreate a little of the wonder I had when I first purchased them, but then life moves on.

    In beholding a dollar amount like $3.89M, my experience of life and art automatically begins to calculate how many other, new experiences that much money could purchase, and what experieces can not be bought for any price. Most of what I would still like to do can be had for just the interest on $3.89M; the rest may be earned over time with love, and alot of luck. I can only take the later to my grave. The rich can have the ‘Cindy Sherman’s’. They’re not on my bucket list.


  63. Thank God!

    I was afraid that we wouldn’t know what to do with the money now that all of the children have been fed.

  64. Love it. I will always stop to look at a Cindy Sherman work.
    The same kind of tropes recur over and over again, the look offscreen, the implied threat of something good or bad having just happened, or about to happen, the careful placement of clothing to suggest either consent or not, then a closer examination to see what other clues she has left behind. Fascinating.
    I am a bigger fan of Jeff Wall:
    or Rodney Graham

    interesting response to this here..shows a certain lack of depth I hadn’t expected.

  65. The art world is in my option has become a business, an irrelevant entity into itself, completely removed from the rest of the human experience.

    The current system is governed over by a group of elitist, pretentious profit makers who inflate the price of the art and in so doing their egos to that end. The art world has always been a controlled institution, a propaganda machine if you will.

    During the Renaissance it was Rome, today it’s Philippe Segalot, different people, same concept. But today more than ever, the work is irrelevant, pretentious, and sadly boring. 500 years ago, the average Italian looking up at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling probably had their breath taken away. I can’t really say that Ms. Sherman’s work elicits the same response in me.

    Any pretense by the art community that they are trying to influence change is ridiculous. It is a closed club; membership strictly limited, whose charter is profit and self-indulgence.

    Take Cindy Sherman. This woman’s body of work consists of self-portraits of herself in unusual situations. OK. Now what? How has this affected anything and or anyone in a positive or negative way? The answer is it hasn’t.

    Most people have never heard of Cindy Sherman, or 99.9999999999% of any of the contemporary artists. Why is that so? Does humanity have an aversion to thinking? I don’t think this is the case. The fact that the sheer amount of art produced these days has multiplied exponentially takes away from any impact that it may have at one point had. The fact is it just plain boring.

    “Good art makes you think”, really? Almost everything makes me think, I don’t know about you. I can wonder about mankind’s our purpose on earth until the day that I ceases to be a part of this world; I don’t need an ordinary shot of a very attractive young woman to make me think.
    3.89 million dollars, really?

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