In a 2010 trailer for a documentary about herself, Fran Lebowitz tells a story about a blind art collector. She says that once a blind art collector elbowed his million dollar Picasso. Lebowitz says that she doesn’t know which Picasso or the name of the man, though she keeps asking her people and none of them know. Stupid people.
She says there is no more potent symbol of our times than the blind art collector.
Had she Googled it, she would’ve discovered that Steve Wynn, the famed Las Vegas baron, was the man who elbowed his Picasso. And that Steve Wynn isn’t blind. He just has bad eyes. Retinitis pigmentosa. Bad peripheral vision. The Picasso in question is Le Reve, a very famous Picasso, so says my Art History degree. And those in the audience who majored in French will note that “Le Reve” means “The Dream.”
Wynn loved the painting so much, he considered naming his casino after it. Had Ms. Lebowitz read the 2006 New Yorker article about the incident, she might’ve learned that Barbara Walters was present for the famous elbowing incident. As was Nora Ephron. And that Wynn was wearing a golf shirt and jeans.
I say there is no more potent symbol of our times than a man with bad peripheral vision elbowing his Picasso wearing a golf shirt in front of Barbara Walters.
The elbowed painting in question, Le Reve, depicts a dreaming woman. Half her face looks unmistakably like a penis. One breast is exposed and a string of pearls around her neck changes color with the fictitious light. Her arms float like distinct shapes apart from her body and the patterns of the chair behind her create other shapes as if you could pull them apart like a puzzle. It is said the woman in the painting is Picasso’s mistress, his 17 year old neighbor. Is she dreaming or being dreamed of?
Had Lebowitz known that it was Wynn, she would have discovered that at the time of the elbowing, he was selling the painting to another insanely rich man. Wynn had to pay nearly $100,000 to repair the painting and sued the insurance company when they refused to pay the difference in the value of the painting.
Are we perhaps returning to a time again when art is only enjoyed by those wealthy enough to own it? Le Reve was painted in 1932, the same year Anton Atuard wrote his famous essay about the “theatre of cruelty.” He said the best kind of performance would be to throw a bomb in the audience. Artists began to assault the viewer’s sensibilities instead of treat them, but at every turn the art market found a way to make money off of it.
In 2013, Wynn finally sold the painting after it had been repaired for a record $155 million.
Later in the trailer Lebowitz says that Picasso was an art prodigy, but there is no such thing as a writing prodigy. There can be musical prodigies and child actors, but writers have to know things. Therefore they need experience.
For some reason I can’t get the image of a teenage Arthur Rimbaud (his best work already written) running through the Louvre elbowing his way through each room. Improving many of the paintings no doubt. He was one of Picasso’s favorite writers.