Philip Hensher: All very well in a gallery, but can you imagine living with the icon of urban depression?

A City acquaintance had a Damien Hirst medicine cabinet, to the occasional confusion of his guests

Share
Related Topics

One of the most useful words to art dealers, seeking to offload something that, frankly, you wouldn't want to live with, is this: "challenging". It is usually limited to the work of a contemporary artist which, despite looking like a pile of poo, is being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But occasionally a work of art comes on to the market from a previous generation which can only be referred to as "challenging".

Munch's The Scream, in any of its four versions, is all very well if you come across it in a gallery. But who, really, would want to live with it permanently? Try thinking of coming down to breakfast and facing the icon of urban depression and fear every day – one just can't imagine it. Try explaining to your beloved family that you've cast an appalling cloud of moany angst over their favourite room forever more, at the cost, Sotheby's predicts, of $80m.

It is a vulgar response to art to say: "Well, I wouldn't want to have it in my house". A lot of art, especially in recent years, has been produced expressly for public display. An artist like Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys or Jeremy Deller works best in galleries or public spaces. When you come across the work of a contemporary artist in a private setting, it can be disconcerting – a City acquaintance of mine had a Damien Hirst medicine cabinet in his dining room, to the occasional confusion of his guests.

Plenty of surprising things are in private hands, and not all of them are kept in vaults. I heard from the curator of one national institution that when they borrowed a famous classic from a Gulf sheikh, it had evidently been hanging in his dining room. Before displaying it, they had to clean rather a lot of dried food from the surface – the sheikh's family, in disgruntlement at the hideous thing, liked to flick humus at it when no one was looking.

Personally, I would rather hang a dead cat in my house than any one of the versions of Munch's The Scream. Almost anything else seems preferable – a Cy Twombly scribble, a shouty Jackson Pollock, a Lucian Freud of a clinically obese nude.

Possibly the Olsen family, the current owners of the version now coming up for sale, have just decided what a number of really very attractive objects they could buy for $80m. And if not, what a relief that blank space on their wall must be.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road