Beauty is in the eye of the urinal
Like any other pastor or priest willing to tell the truth, I have to tell you, I lie. Most often it comes in the form of exaggeration as in: “He is the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen!”, but I’ll confess that it can get a whole lot worse than that.
Long ago the nicest of fellows came to my office to present me with the ugliest of gifts. He had poured out his heart and soul into a painting that, had it been a face, would have stopped a clock.
I smiled and, barely suppressing my gag reflex, said, “What a lovely … um, piece.” He asked where I would hang his creation and I responded by breaking either the ninth or the third commandment, I can never remember which is which.
I lied. I said I would have to find a special place, knowing in my heart of hearts the only thing special about the place I would find is how hard it would be to find again. Come to think of it, I can’t think of where I eventually put it.
But I do remember why I decided to write about lying and art. It is because of an advertisement I saw this past week for an auction at the prestigious firm of Phillips, dePury and Luxembourg. They are a 205-year-old New York auction house with branches in Geneva, London, Munich and Paris that has been responsible for the sale of millions of dollars worth of art over their long and esteemed history.
You’d think they would have learned by now what is art and what is something else altogether.
The aforementioned auction was heralded with a photograph of one of the pieces to be sold. It is called “Fountain”. It is, and here I quote from the ad, a “Glazed cast ceramic urinal with black paint.” This is, at least as best I can tell from the black and white picture, a fairly accurate description. It certainly does look to be a glazed, cast, ceramic urinal with what appears to be “R.Mutt, 1917” scrawled along the rim. It is estimated to be sold for somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.
Now, I am neither an artist nor a connoisseur of art, but I did manage to make it through the third grade and I feel qualified to say this is not a work of art, but rather an accessory that you would order through your plumber. Most of the plumbers I know probably don’t have this particular item in stock, but I am sure they would be happy to order it for you … for a 20 percent mark-up, of course.
My meandering point is simply this: Don’t you have just the teeniest notion the proprietors at Phillips, dePury and Luxembourg are pulling a fast one? Can you imagine with me Messieurs Phillips, dePury and Luxembourg rolling on the floor in anticipation of someone actually paying a couple million for what the rest of us can use for free?
They say art judges us and not the other way around. If that’s the case, I’m sure that urinal must not think much of me. Because, truth to tell, I don’t think much of it and what’s more, I can’t imagine the folks at Philips, dePury and Luxembourg do either.
I suppose someone will step up to that glazed and cast ceramic bowl and pay the price. And I suspect most of their friends will ooh and ahh over the buyers’ sophisticated taste. But I have a hunch that a few of those same folk will be silently wondering when art left the gallery and wound up in the “John.”
The August house of Philips, dePury and Luxembourg won’t be telling, at least not until the auction is over and the money’s in the bank.
Given the nature of sophistication, one can never be too secure about what is art and what is not. Still I’m not so artistically insecure that I can’t tell a picture from the proverbial pot to piss in.
And that’s the truth.
Rich Mayfield is pastor of the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.
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