The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

When Less Costs More: Buying a Piece of History, 2011



Kasimir Malevich, Painterly Realism of a Football Player: Color Masses in the 4th Dimension, 1915, acquired by The Art Institute, Chicago, 2011.

When a Malevich came on the auction block,
Someone paid out, in dollars, sixty million.
Then another, from the same batch, was sold
To Chicago’s Art Institute, for undisclosed sum.

What a catch, what a prize, in one hundred years,
Nay!, In one hundred and thirty-two years, rarely
A piece so significant- for this be one of the rarest
And most storied of Russian Suprematist paintings.

Now what is that, you say! A supreme Russian painting,
Or a Suprematist painting from Russia? Why the big deal?
It’s clear: The Institute lacked a Russian avant-garde work.
What a coup, to fill, in the collection, such a glaring gap!

Joe, in the newsroom, glanced at the picture, thought Hum!
Turned to the title for enlightenment, but found none.
What to make of the Painterly Realism of a Football Player,
When all he saw was one green circle, and seven other shapes.

Glancing back at the subtitle, searching for a lead, he finds
“Color Masses in the 4th Dimension,” and a date, 1915.
Looks again, seems but two dimensions, flat, colored shapes
Laid over a neutral whitish-gray field, and starts to do the math.

Hypothesize some sixty-million dollars – perhaps even more!
Imagine what that looks like, laid out in glimmering gold bars!
Imagine what that purchases, besides a flashy fleet of fine cars!
Then he looks back at the canvas, as if back in the artist’s studio.

Kasimir Malevich must have been one heck of a man! – Surely bold.
By 1912, he already had a name, painting cubo-futuristic works,
Inspired by the famed bohemians of the Paris art world. Ah Paris!
And then there was the Dutch Mondrian, heading the same way.

While Mondrian, in nineteen-twelve, still let in the hint of a tree,
A Russian could become a Suprematist, and why not me?
So Kasimir prepped his canvas, a mere 70 x 44 centimeters,
A monotone ground, all off-white-gray! – Then almost done!

Two black rectangles, and one more off-black and skewed;
Four wedges of primaries, red, blue and yellow, all floating
Above the off-white-gray ground, seemingly sprung from
One small neat circle, colored a monochrome green!

That should do it, muses Malevich, less would end as
White-on-White – yes, why not, but just not yet, because
What then comes next? Could he have dreamed, some day,
Some other would value his day’s work at some sixty million!?

Did I say, sixty million? Sixty million dollars – no less?

Now, how many people, worked how many days,
For how many years, over how many lifetimes –
To put aside sufficient surplus to pay for that?
A 70 x 44 cm canvas, with but eight daubs of color?

-- JW, January 30th, 2011.

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John Walford

John Walford
Not All That Meets The Eye

About Me

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I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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