What Do You Think?

The world of visual arts is full of penetrating questions, such as “Can a chimpanzee be an artist?” In 2005 a group of paintings by Congo, a chimp “encouraged” in his art by anthropologist Desmond Morris, were put up for auction in London. The Painting Primate completed 400 paintings and drawings in the 1950s, and Morris believed the chimp was an “intense” artist, “focused on what he was doing.” Congo’s work was a commercial and critical success: the British public purchased nearly all of his pictures, and he received an exhibit at a respectable London gallery. If that weren’t enough, Pablo Picasso bought one of the paintings and hung it on his studio wall.

So too, the exuberant spatters of paint on butcher paper done by a six-year-old, though not offered at auction, are nonetheless objets d’art. The venue of a refrigerator door is quite satisfactory. Payment will be in milk and cookies.

In the end, art needn’t be acceptable to be accepted.

Blogscript: At the London auction one person bought all three of Congo’s paintings for more than $25,000 (example at right). At the same showing works by the French impressionist Renoir and pop artist Andy Warhol drew little attention and went unsold.


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