Bea Arthur was a pretty cool lady. She played one of TV’s first feminist characters on All In The Family, and of course, she captured our hearts as Dorothy Zbornak on Golden Girls. She was also pretty foxy. Hence, it stands to reason that when an iconic painting of not only Bea Arthur, but Bea Arthur topless goes up for auction, the bidding war would be high stakes and fierce.
A topless portrait of Bea Arthur by artist John Currin that’s aptly titled Bea Arthur Naked went up on the Christies auction block last night, and it sold over the phone for a cool $1.9 million. Here’s what it looks like:
Personally, I think this is a pretty nice picture of Bea Arthur (who did not sit for it) showing her serenity, confidence, and maybe a bit of humor. But other people hate it, so it’s “controversial.”
Many, like Village Voice writer Kim Levin, hated the painting when it was first shown in 1992, even calling for a boycott of Currin’s show. They believed Bea Arthur Naked to be sexist, ageist and misogynistic, because why would anyone paint an older woman in the nude if they weren’t making fun of her? Or is that, itself, an ageist assumption? Who’s the ageist now, Levin?
Others, like ArtForum’s David Rimanelli, viewed it favorably. “Naked, Arthur nevertheless remains composed and dignified,” he wrote in 2003, “her smile and slightly peaked eyebrows conveying a sense of irony, even amusement. The portrait is too psychological for the everyday antifeminist caricature.”
Christies paints it in more salcaious terms. “It’s radical to sexualize someone people think of as asexual,” said Christies spokesman Koji Inoue. “The painting has a visual toughness to it — but it’s also fun.”
This might have been a poor choice of words; “sexualized” implies Bea as a passive object was was waiting to be sexualized by the painter, and I’d rather view her sexuality is coming from her own inner agency. Still, I agree that it’s radical to depict older women as sexual beings, and that’s probably a major factor in this painting’s enduring controversy.
(Via The Daily Beast)