PRINT May 2005


art and competitive consumption

MOCKING TITTERS AND condescending volleys erupted from the culturati in January when the big-box, membership-only retailer Costco offered an authenticated Picasso drawing for the strategically irresistible price of $39,999.99. The source of dismay was obvious. Costco is home to everything from institutional-size cans of tomato sauce to billboard-size plasma screens—not fine art. In highbrow discussions one heard an incipient, disdainful qualification: This was a late Picasso drawing, one of those “doodles” jotted off in Saint Tropez when the Master was feeling the need to raise some quick capital.

We might do well to consider more fully how it is that the appearance of a canonical artist like Picasso at Costco could still cause uneasiness, much as Picasso’s instant bartering of drawings for cash (or boats or whatever) did in its day. In the bluntest terms, both instances would seem to upset

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