Friday, December 3, 2010

My Brush with Art Fortune

Behold, my ticket out of Palookaville, or so I thought. The thought first occurred to me a few years ago as I sat perusing the pages of Time magazine. It was then that I suddenly spied out of the corner of my eye an article on the skyrocketing value of Chinese modern art. Curious, I immediately set out to surf the web for more information when I stumbled on a work by Wang Jiyuan that sold for nearly half a million dollars at auction. Normally I would have just raised my eyebrow (I only have one, it goes straight across my forehead. I used to have two but as I've grown older the hair on top of my head has migrated to various sub polar regions of my body.) an inch or two and surfed on but this startling find stopped me dead in my tracks. It just so happens that my mother was in the possession of a beautiful  ink and water color painting by one Wang Jiyuan that was hanging on her bedroom wall. How did a mild mannered suburban American housewife acquire such a potentially pricey work of art? It's a long story that I won't go into here but suffice it to say that no real criminal wrong doing was involved (the rest I'll leave up to your imagination dear reader).

They say the market never sleeps and that goes for the art market as well, but fortunately my mother does. So one night as she dozed off into dreamland I crept into her chambers to sequester the family fortune for safekeeping and potential marketability (which she didn't really object to I'm sure because she was quite ill at the time). After fashioning a museum quality portfolio case to rest the treasure in for its journey half way around the globe to my home in Japan, I bid my farewell to the family and was on my way. Some time later, securely nestled in my Far Eastern lair I was able to use the cutting-edge photo apparatuses at my disposal to take a digital photograph of the painting that I would send along with a letter of inquiry to the contemporary Asian art departments at a couple of the most prestigious art auction houses in the world.

It had been well over a year since I dashed the first letter off. Just imagine the joy in my heart when one day in May, out of the blue, I spied out the corner of my eye, the words "Asian Contemporary and 20th Century Chinese Art Department" neatly laser printed in the corner of an envelope that the  mailman had just dropped in my mail slot. This was the moment I had been waiting for practically all my life. My heart pounding with anticipation, I stooped to pick up the letter and with trembling hands patiently peeled open the sealed flap to reveal the 8 1/2 x 11 inch invitation to the billionaire art collector's club. Spreading the folded sheet out before my eyes, I savored each syllable as they built into a gradual crescendo leading to the words, "immeasurable decorative value."  Yes, yes, "i-m-e-a-s-u-r-a-b-l-e!" The word echoed through the corners of my mind, triggering a chain reaction of synonymous adjectives each accompanied by the distinctive ka-ching of a cash register. There was "incalculable" followed on its heels by "inestimable," with "unprecedented" burning up the outside track and finally, making its way up the field, and through the pack, "unimaginable."

It was all just incredible, then calamity struck. Who could have predicted it, nobody saw it coming. In fact it had been there all along. A big fat "but" just lying there in the middle of the sentence waiting for the reader to trip over Yeah, it had decorative value alright "but," as the esteemed representative from the gallery assured me, not enough monetary value to make it worth auctioning off in their tony showroom. What happened next was horrible, immeasurable slammed into "but" with a Titanic impact leaving the short-lived quartet of "incalculable, inestimable, unprecedented, and imaginable" to sink into oblivion, taking with them the hope they offered for a wealthy life of leisure.

With Mother's Day on the immediate horizon, I decided to cut my losses and hit upon the wonderful idea of having the piece professionally framed and sent to my dear mom as a token of my immense love and affection. As fate would have it, my hopes were dashed once again. It had been over a year since I had photographed the painting and made my inquiries to various auction houses across the globe. Now there was no telling where I stored it for safekeeping. In the closet where I hide my cookies safely out of reach from my two growing boys? No, not there. In the upstairs closet where we put things we don't want to get moldy in a couple of months? No, not there either. Who knows where I put it. The possibilities are in a word, "immeasurable."

There is at least one place where I know it's not:

The wall in my mother's bedroom.

I've been searching in vain for months now and I'm at my wits end. Where the heck could it be? Why the desperate search for something so worthless you ask?  Worthless? That's just another word for "priceless."


  1. I have a number of this artists works in the attic of my house. Do you have any idea how much his watercolors fetch at auction? Please post your reply. Thank you for interesting article.

  2. I don't know as far as I'm concerned the jury is still out on that. I know it's been a couple of years since I contacted the top art auctioners across the globe but I'm still hoping for a positive reply from at least one. Sometimes the mail is just slow. Sometimes people are given a letter to mail and they toss it in the back of the car and forget about it until a day, a week, a month, a year or two goes by and they are rummaging through the back for some window cleaner and paper towels and oops! there are those letters they were supposed to mail. These things take time, you have to let them breathe like a fine wine.