D.L. Stewart: Just call it ‘The Emperor’s New Art Work’

To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (no relation), “I may not be able to define absurdity, but I know it when I see it.”

Stewart’s comment concerned obscenity in 1964, but it came to mind yesterday when I read a story on CNN NewSource about an “art installation” that sold at auction in London last week for $4,351,969.

The focus of the art was something you might find in a typical college dorm room — an unmade bed. Surrounding it was stuff that also might be found in that dorm room — cigarette butts in an overflowing ash tray, an empty liquor bottle, contraceptives and a 16-year-old condom.

All of that, explained artist Tracey Emin, was inspired by the four days in 1998 she spent in the bed “heartbroken and feeling terrible.” When she finally got out of the bed, she relates, “Suddenly I had this vision of taking it out of the bedroom space and putting it into a white gallery space. It suddenly made sense. Wow this is fantastic artwork.”

People who aren’t cool enough to appreciate art might think that an unmade bed, used cigarettes, an empty booze bottle and a condom that’s well past its “use by” date probably shouldn’t be worth more than, say, $12. But, Emin declared, “It’s like a piece of history. A time capsule.” Not being what you would call an art aficionado, I don’t know about that. But, it’s definitely a piece of something.

Unfortunately, the story didn’t identify the person who paid $4,351,969 for an unmade bed because I definitely would like to get in touch with him or her. I have a whole house filled with art installations I couldn’t get rid of at our last garage sale.

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