Recently I wrote on a couple pretty well-known artists, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Edward Kienholz. What do these two have to do with one another? Well,...NOTHING, actually. Tiffany was an early 20th century stained glass designer and interior decorator. Kienholz was a late 20th century cutting-edge sculptor famous for his surrealistic tableau's involving controversial social comment. Probably two more totally different artists would be hard to contemplate. What brings them side by side is how the art world today reacts to their work--or as Paul Harvey might say, the REST of the Story.
The art world thrives on the buying and selling of work by famous artists, often at exorbitant prices. But what happens when there is simply no work to be traded? In Tiffany's case, anyone who HAS any is hanging onto it. Consequently there is a shortage of Tiffany collectibles (lamps, etc.), which means there are tons of fakes being manufactured at an alarming rate and collectors are gambling on them and losing. The rest of his stuff is all in museums, or churches, or mausoleums, which is where the plot thickens. It seems a former adviser to the FBI and Christie's auction house was arrested recently for receiving a 9-foot Tiffany stained glass window stolen from a Brooklyn cemetery mausoleum. He bought it for $60,000 (a real steal) and sold it to a Japanese collector for $219,000. An accomplice grave robber was also arrested. He commented that stealing stained glass from mausoleums is easy because there is little security. The thief also had in mind another stained glass heist in Westchester County, but his buyer turned it down because it wasn't big enough and didn't have enough trees.
One of the hallmarks of Edward Kienholz work is that it often deals with somewhat explicit sexual content. I wrote recently on his museum installation on the subject of prostitution. Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a similar "piece" entitled "Back Seat Dodge '38." It depicts a drunken couple embracing in the back seat of a car, said to be representative of the artist's first sexual encounter. Recently a volunteer tour guide was leading a group of fifth grade girls from an elementary school through the museum. What do you say about such a work to ten preadolescents, more than a little curious about the artist and his work? She explained the work and ended by telling the group: "...you only get one first sexual experience so think before you act. Make it meaningful, make it special, make it beautiful." For her tasteful attempt at mixing morality, sex education, and art, she was fired. In her defense, the volunteer says she was merely following an approved script in describing the work. She is fighting the termination and demanding an apology. At least she didn't try to STEAL the thing. I wonder if there is a black market for '38 Dodges?