Interview with Michael Bell in his weekly section MBELLART on Yareah Magazine. By Isabel del Rio
I.R.- Hi Michael. How is life? Here, in Madrid, Christmas has been nice. Precisely, yesterday I thought of you because I was speaking with some friends about auctions and prices for works of art. Some people insisted that not everything has a price, at least a tangible price. For example, the Sistine Chapel has a religious value that nobody could pay. However, other friends (less romantic) said that the value would be the final auction price. Then, in a radical way of thinking, the Sistine Chapel has not value at all because cannot be sold. What do you think about the topic? A Bacon triptych is more valuable than the Sistine Chapel ceiling because we know the price?
The Vatican has also released a beautiful 360° view of the Sistine Chapel. Use your mouse to navigate, and the “+” and “-” signs to change the scale of the image when you click the above link.
M.B.- I personally believe the Sistine Chapel is priceless. No amount of money in the world could replace it if the building were destroyed, because it was created by the hand of Michelangelo, and for me as an artist it’s the process itself – the how and by whom it was created that makes it priceless, not just the final masterpiece. For the Catholic Congregation I’m certain there’s a monetary value associated with it, because it cost money to maintain it, however I can’t see it being something ever being sold to auction unless you were to sell the whole building and build the piece into the cost.
I.R.- Following that conversation, some people said that the Prado Museum should auction some Velázquez paintings to know the real value of Las Meninas. Velázquez is off the market and according with them, that is not good for the Prado Museum. At this moment a big fight started… You know, Velázquez is sacred in Madrid (a patriotic issue). Some people cannot accept such an idea. What do you think? If your paintings were off the market, could it be possible that your artwork were so famous?
M.B.- This is a loaded question Isabel on many levels. I’d absolutely love for my work to become that famous. I like to think it’s every artist’s goal to create work that has meaning and I do feel my work is at a current place where I’m ready for my work to have a conversation with my contemporaries that fit that bill and have a place in art history. It’s hard to avoid feeling that the ultimate measure of value on a work of art is the current auction market though, but that’s the way the system is set up. As soon as the art world started speaking not in art terms but in business terms artists started figuring out ways to be branded and had to learn about price points. Getting back to what I was saying about having a conversation between works, I purposefully painted my tie in “Severed Ties” (below) a similar pattern as the chair in longtime friend and contemporary Eric Fischl’s “The Bed, The Chair” series.
And, as Eric has stated in numerous interviews about auction prices, “The price tag has replaced talent, and it’s certainly not a critical dialogue. It’s just something that’s a symbolic thing where it must mean the person who sells for the most money is the best artist. It’s a total false kind of critical economy and very destructive to the culture as well.” – Eric Fischl
M.B.- As for Velázquez being so sacred, I believe this can also be tied to his place in art history. Take Leonardo da Vinci, as another example. Da Vinci’s philosophies would have an effect upon how others could find meaning in art, in the value of reality, and in the world in general.
In November, 1994 Bill gates purchased eighteen sheets of Leonardo da Vinci’s visual journals for 30.8 million dollars.
This speaks volumes to me on how “important” that process is…for one individual with enough money to get his hands on it, to own it, live with it…And let’s face it, there’s pump and dump schemes going on in the art auctions just as there are on wall street with stocks. It’s all who’s behind the auction and who has the right players in place to make that happen.
M.B.- Let me share a horror story with you. It was the first auction I ever agreed to do and it was a LIVE auction for the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation (HOBY). What a joke! They never promoted the art, were only interested in filling seats for the $500 per plate dinner and the pieces never got one bid. One Laguna Beach artist even bought her own work back because she said the frame was worth more than the bids. I won’t mention her name because nobody would even believe it! It totally shattered my ego for a moment. I mean, it was terrifyingly embarrassing. It had nothing to do with my art, but to me, being I was so young and it was my first live auction – it felt like it had everything to do with my art. I was devastated. Then, to add insult to injury they never shipped my painting back to me as promised. I still have no idea what ever happened to it. They stopped returning my calls after my flight back East from Los Angeles. Here’s the last look I ever had of the painting:
M.B.- I learned a lot from that terrible experience and have since had numerous successful auctions, the last ones being in Chicago where one of my smaller paintings went for $12,000.00, another one in Los Angeles (below) and in New York where my work helped raise $50,000.00 along with some of my Sopranos pals at a huge gala.
Georgia Durante (above), in 2005 with my $12,000 painting “Love and Pain” being auctioned off for Charity with Mario Lopez & guest, Demi Ngyun, Georgia Durante, Toni Lee, & Jackie Kallen (below).
2008 Michael Bell Red Carpet painting unveiling with “Sopranos” stars (below) Joseph R. Gannascoli, Frank Vincent and Dominic Chianese, also pictured Annette Di Benedetto-Cavaliere (left) and Eileen Margolis de Oliveira (center).
I.R.- Another ‘crazy’ idea of my friends: ‘The Vatican must sell art and give the money to poor people’. Do you think that would be possible? Now, we have a very sympathetic Pope.
M.B.- Now that is a crazy idea, but one the Vatican could certainly take from our current American Government which seems hell-bent on taking from everyone (not just the rich) to give to the poor. Don’t get me started on the horrific state of the educational system in our country or on Obamacare! Enjoy your week Isabel!
I.R- Enjoy your week, Michael.