February 20, 2012

UC Berkeley's "amazing incompetence" selling off a huge sculpture — supposedly worth $1+ million — for $164.63.

The 22-foot long carved panel was made by Sargent Johnson (1888-1967), "a celebrated African-American sculptor."
Arthur Monroe, an African-American artist and friend of Johnson’s, said that if the missing art had been by a white sculptor, "the university would have turned the campus upside down to find it."

45 comments:

Expat(ish) said...

Actually, I'd have assumed that they would have been able to sweep it under the rug....

-XC

Crimso said...

Before I got to the quote I was going to sarcastically post "Racists!" Monroe beat me to it, only he's serious. Which isn't to say he should be taken seriously, because he clearly should not be.

James said...

Hmmm....seems the buyer was rather niggardly.

Carnifex said...

I saw enough of the article when it was stated that the artist could never earn a living with his art. If no one will buy it for $1,000,000 then it ain't worth a $1,000,000.

If you paint, or compose, or dance, but wait tables to pay your bills you are not an painter, composer or a dancer. You are a waiter, with a hobby. I am a carpenter. Friends bring me their computers to fix but I am not a computer geek. Friends ask me to fix their plumbing, and I am not a plumber. I am a carpenter. It is that easy.

Jay said...

Wow UC Berkley, fully immersed in the church of modern liberalism, is "racist"!

Joe said...

This isn't unusual. Several years ago BYU built a very nice fine arts museum and hired a new curator who found a whole lot of art wasn't cataloged and some was missing. Same thing happens in all departments.

Private industry isn't immune; I recently worked at a company that lost track of hundreds of expensive evaluation systems worth a few hundred thousand dollars.

MadisonMan said...

If it's supposedly worth $1 M, but sells for $164, is it really worth a million?

John Lynch said...

What it tells me is that most WPA art is crap. Some is worth a lot, but most is so worthless that it's not worth storing in a basement.

The fact that it's not immediately obvious what art is worth keeping tells us that the art world is no longer connected to reality.

X said...

what a great story. Berkley paid no taxes on their small gain, but the art dealer did and this WPA piece earned some money back for the taxpayers.

Synova said...

Oh, now that's just stoopid.

Like it being by a black artist means no white person cares it's worth a fortune.

All money is green.

Synova said...

I think that, in the case of art, it's worth what someone would pay for it *if they knew it was for sale*. So it could be worth a million but sell for a couple hundred.

In which case the person who bought it for a couple hundred is now a very lucky, very rich, person.

Tom Spaulding said...

"...that if the missing art had been by a white sculptor...", the university would likely never have bought it, students would have protested the use of funds to acquire it had they done so, and nobody would have cared if it was lost.

This is UC Berkley, remember.

Synova said...

Oh, and I like the artwork, at least judging by the picture of it.

Chip S. said...

If it's supposedly worth $1 M, but sells for $164, is it really worth a million?

Well, the owner backed out of a deal to sell it for $225K and says he sold it for less than $1M.

I can't figure out what the fuss is about, other than UCB losing out on the profits. It's a near certainty that more people will see this work at the Huntington than would ever have seen it on the UCB campus.

traditionalguy said...

Art has the value a collector will pay for it. A Collector will pay for pride and a rising market.

If that sounds like real estate pre 2008, it works very much alike.

Today's last hope to sell art by rising artists betting on the come of their fame, is to get a 501c3 institution to accept a donation with an inflated "appraisal".

Then the donor gets his tax bracket worth of tax savings for what he was going to have to pay to have taken to the dump.

Peter said...

'Synova' said, "Like it being by a black artist means no white person cares it's worth a fortune."

I'd have to agree that there's no reason to suspect malice when mere incompetence will suffice.

In any case, if the Huntington values this at $1million+ and UC Berkeley v alued it at $150., well, isn't that how economics is supposed to work (i.e., it allocates goods to those who value them)?

Methadras said...

This is called leftard-onomics.

ricpic said...

This Johnson dude should have become a furniture maker. That wood relief of his would have made a humongous headboard in someone's master bedroom.

edutcher said...

Did a paper on academia-based startups about 5 years ago and, at Berkeley apparently, all the smart people work in the science departments.

John Lynch said...

What it tells me is that most WPA art is crap. Some is worth a lot, but most is so worthless that it's not worth storing in a basement.

The sort of stuff commissioned by Mao, Uncle Joe, and (Godwin alert) to let the masses know how good they had it.

Chip Ahoy said...

No, Carnifex, no.

If you fix somebody's computer then you are by definition a computer geek. Own it.
When you fix your friend's plumbing, bless you, you are a plumber. Embrace it.

It is just that easy that you are that complex and useful to people around you. Not taking something up as a trade does not mean you are not that thing. You are what you do.

I've never liked the question, "So what do you do?" With the expectation that I must name a single thing, a thing I do and do better than anything else I do , that my life revolves around, some excellence, a vocation, the source of income, my full identity. The question rankles so much that it's caused in me a degree of social ineptness that should be easily fixed but isn't. I've painted myself into a corner on that one. I get asked all the time and each time I just flat don't know how to satisfy the question.

wyo sis said...

It's too bad we can't discuss anything involving "a person of color" without getting the race card. It's starting to mean nothing and that's too bad, because it would be nice to be able to discuss racism when/if it actually happens.

DaveW said...

I'd have given them at least $175.

Bryan C said...

Did it have "Made By Black Artist" stamped on the back, so that the University knew it was ok to lose it?

I like the piece. I like a lot of WPA art, despite the method of funding. I doubt that it would bring the suggested asking price, though.

Patrick said...

"I've painted myself into a corner on that one. I get asked all the time and each time I just flat don't know how to satisfy the question."

I've got it, Chip, you're a painter.

Fen said...

"a celebrated African-American sculptor."

Why does his race matter? Is it more of a tragedy than if the artist had been asian-american or american-american?

What if it had been a latino-italian-native-American?

Carnifex said...

Chip would be a philosopher of the Will Rogers mold.

bgates said...

He shoulda sculpted something people want to look at.

Like a white kid throwing a football, or an Asian kid shooting a 3.

Bob_R said...

Call me crazy, but I'm going to give a weak defense of Berkeley on this one. This art was designed as a cover for organ pipes and could no longer be used for its original purpose. There is a huge morass of state law that makes it close to impossible to sell anything to a specialized market like the art market. The way to get rid of anything within a state university system so that everyone has followed all the rules no one goes to jail is just send it to the surplus sale. Most of the stuff there is complete junk, but a lot of it could be sold for a lot more money if that was anyone's goal.

Bob_R said...

I'm on Chip's side in this debate. If someone wants to be defined by how they pay the rent, that's their choice. But anyone who created that screen can call himself an artist. He may also be a lot of other things, but he's an artist. Another example, anyone want to say that Althouse is not a blogger?

paul a'barge said...

It's always about race with these people. Always.

"Hey, how about rainbow!"

"Racist!"

Coketown said...

Who here hasn't watched Antiques Roadshow and dreamed of this very thing happening to them. You buy some absurd thing for $164 and find out it's worth a million.

cassandra lite said...

As a Berkeley alum, I can state without fear of serious contradiction that the university couldn't find its ass with both hands and a mirror.

Pogo said...

I wet to the "Outsider Art" exhibit in Milwaukee this weekend.

Like this piece being labeled 'African-American', the show was labeling pieces as 'outsider' to jack up the price.

Much of it was just good art, no different from any other work.

Some was crap, completely terrible, and only in the show because the creator was mentally ill.

The most fascinating was Henry Darger, a janitor from Chicago. Holy cow, was that weird and interesting and frightening. When he died at 81s, they found a 15,000 page novel and hundreds of accompanying illustrations in his apartment of 43 years.

Try this one, for example. Most amazing, his landlord himself was an artist, who saved all this stuff from destruction.

Darrell said...

Thanks, Pogo.
Now I visited a link that featured child pornography (the naked little girl.) That record will be kept forever at my ISP, should the FBI ever want to look.

LarsPorsena said...

Too many museums with too much 'art'.

Penny said...

Did this article make anyone else feel dizzy?

No?

Must be my equilibrium then.

David said...

"I get asked all the time and each time I just flat don't know how to satisfy the question."

Ask them first, Chip. Then pretend to be interested.

Pogo said...

Sorry, Darrell, although that means the American Folk Art Museum should go to jail.

Penny said...

"Ask them first, Chip. Then pretend to be interested."

Soon enough, you'll walk out knowing what David knows.

Darrell said...

Sorry, Darrell, although that means the American Folk Art Museum should go to jail.

I think everyone in the US could go to jail if the FBI ever got hold of their computer and their ISP info. That's not exactly a comforting thought.

DEEBEE said...

The irony is rich. An institution in an area mostly populated by people with great faith in large organizations, are clucking their tonguesat the sheer incompetency of organizational behemoths, albeit for the moment. They then will go back to their droning for such behemoths until the next episode.

Penny said...

"The irony is rich."

Gonna let you "chew" on the cost
of irony.

Penny said...

I'll let you know when it's time to swallow.

Penny said...

Just kidding!

Cindy Martin said...

"if the missing art had been by a white sculptor, "the university would have turned the campus upside down to find it."

OH PLEASE!! If the university knew the sculture was worth a million, they wouldn't have sold it for 164 bucks.