I was just informed on a yahoo alert that the piece “Flag” by Jasper Johns sold for $28.6 million dollars at Christie’s. This hit me on a number of levels — first the fact that I could learn of such a sale at a moment’s notice while sitting at my desk in Sarasota, Florida; second, the idea that the price tag on a painting is treated as breaking news; and finally, the fact that people with money to burn are probably hankering for “the America they once knew.” “Flag” is considered an iconic piece of art, and I have to say on a surface level I find it very appealing (see photograph). But truly, it is Jasper Johns’ interpretation of the flag we see every day. A sale of these proportions, one might say, is a testament to old-school American values. American symbolism and capitalism inextricably linked. In fact, the reporters note that investors are pouring their money into art of late, because of the volatility of the financial markets. Surely, it makes sense that a painting of a flag is now a safer investment than buying stock in Goldman Sachs, but it is certainly quite remarkable.
At a time when we keep hearing the refrain that the America of 2010 is not “my America” — is it possible that the purchase of a $28.6 million flag painting is an attempt to hold onto America of the past, where greed was indeed “good?” (Note, ads are already playing for Oliver Stone’s current take in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” again featuring Gordon Gekko, who originally coined the phrase).
As I said, I actually love the piece “Flag,” but the ironies here aren’t lost on me. I just keep thinking of the number of Americans who could benefit from that kind of money. In all likelihood, this piece will end up in the hands of another collector (it was owned by the late Michael Crichton), where Americans will never see it again. So much for the American dream.