A Thanksgiving Masterpiece

On Nov. 13 at Sotheby’s in New York, an 8 x 13-foot print of Andy Warhol’s painting “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” was sold for the highest sum any of the late pop artist’s works has ever commanded–$105.4 million.

One day earlier, the similarly prestigious Christie’s auction house successfully peddled a 1967 triptych by Francis Bacon, another renowned 20th century artist, for a whopping $142.4 million (yes, that was also a record).

Previously, the most paid for a Warhol painting was a mere $71.7 million–but that was so 2007, and this new total, according to a CNN.com account, went for a work that “shows a twisted body in the wreckage of a car crash” and is part of Warhol’s acclaimed Death and Disaster series.


Visual art is often awesome, compelling, inspirational and evocative, and those who produce it amaze me with their imagination, vision and intelligence. My personal taste runs to Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, to name a few favorite artists. Visits I’ve been privileged to make throughout my life to world-class art museums–the Walker in Minneapolis, the Chicago and Minneapolis Institutes of Art, the Louvre in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, among others–were stimulating and can, on dark days, flood my being with vivid, exhilirating memories.

An art history class I audited during college (thanks, Professor Soth!) opened my eyes to the multi-faceted wonders of art, and I have several friends and relatives who are artists, art dealers, art historians or art curators.

Still, $105.4 million for a painting that graphically depicts something so tragic seems rather wrong to me. That’s not to say such an image cannot or should not be created–all art has value, and provoking a response, even a negative one, can make people think, discuss or change.

If there is anything funny about this, Warhol himself may be in on the joke, even from his grave.

“Art is what you can get away with,” he is famously quoted as saying. And this, from the man who gave us that iconic likeness of a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup: “I like boring things.” If there are people (and, by the way, the winning bidder of that $105.4 million painting has remained unnamed to date) willing to pay for art in whatever form it comes, all the better for the artists–or for their heirs and estates.

Sometimes I’ve been tempted to toss the Thanksgiving and autumnal-themed artworks my three children regularly brought home between the ages of 3 and 12: strategically torn bits of construction paper in brown, orange, yellow and green form a childish scene of falling leaves; a finger-painted cornucopia spills its fruit (in basic geometric shapes cut with a safety scissors); turkeys traced around little palms and fingers remind me of days with younger ones; male and female Pilgrims smile from within the confines of a Popsicle-stick frame, hands extended and round splashes of rosy color splotched on their cheeks.

All these treasures–and more!–still lie sleeping through most of the year at my house, stacked flat in a brown paper bag or carelessly stuffed in a jumble of Thanksgiving decor that may or may not make it to the display stage in any given year. But the flow of “I made it myself” designs has stopped coming through my door, as the kids have moved on to middle school, adolescence and college. What once seemed an endless line of gifts has shown itself to be finite; the realization of future scarcity has boosted the art’s apparent worth.

Pat Henkels, a Worthington Middle School Family and Consumer Science teacher, posted this on Facebook a few days ago: “I am so thankful for my four beautiful kids and their teachers. Instead of storing their [turkey] art projects, I decided to frame them and enjoy them as decorations. Best decision I ever made! I can’t believe I have four different turkeys and each one is unique.”

Of course they’re unique–because each of those four kids (now adults) is unique and added their own special touches and talents to those turkeys, which now hang in honor on a proud mother’s wall.

Worth $105.4 million? No way.

They’re priceless.