Thursday, May 12, 2016
Several days ago, I referred to a statue called Him, which portrays an apparently humble Adolph Hitler kneeling in prayer.
I said the statue was in Sweden, but I was wrong. Apparently there are three Hims, plus a fourth, an artist's proof, which was sold early this week in New York at a Christie's auction.
During the sale, the statue was positioned with its back to the crowd. Its scale is smaller than that of a grown man, and from behind it looks like a kneeling boy. This may be the favored way to display the thing, allowing viewers to believe they are approaching the figure of a child at prayer and then to discover -- surprise! -- that the face of the figure is that of Hitler.
Even the artist, Maurizio Catalan, has mixed feelings about this creation. Here is something he said several years ago about Him, as quoted in the auction catalog:
"I wanted to destroy it myself. I changed my mind a thousand times,
every day. Hitler is pure fear."
I don't know if encountering Hitler would inspire fear in me or revulsion, but I haven't seen the statue. My impression is that Him invites viewers to wonder whether a regretful Hitler, answerable for the death of millions, could with prayer receive forgiveness from God. As politicians say sometimes, that question is a matter above my pay grade.
One Him was displayed in 2012 in Warsaw's former Jewish ghetto; virtually all its 300,000 residents died in concentration camps, and of disease and starvation. The display certainly was meant to shock, but the shock of the ghetto's history would seem to be shocking enough even without a Hitler statue. The Him placement was broadly condemned.
Him was part of an event called "Bound to Fail," meant to describe works relating to a theme of failure. The auction house estimated beforehand that Him would fetch between $10 million and $15 million, but my bet is that Christie's underestimates deliberately in order to generate an impression that the art values are going up, up, up.
In fact, the statue sold for $17.2 million in just five minutes. It was the highest sale price in the entire lot. The anonymous buyer paid more than twice as much as anyone had paid for any other work by the same artist.
You have to wonder who would buy a Him. It's not something most people would want around the house, and a museum displaying it pwould have to take out a large insurance floater to protect against sabotage.
Most expensive art these days is sold to very wealthy people who believe themselves to have excellent taste in art and who also regard their purchases as investments. And, as there have come to be more billionaires, their "investments" have been appreciating in value in recent years.