Jonathan Jones writes in the Guardian that “Red is the colour of sex – and the colour of money when it comes to selling art“. While empirically it might be right – though we are yet to see the evidence and historical record of the highest priced, adjusted for inflation and historical context – Mr Jones might be overusing the sexual concept desire and possession.
What if there’s some ideological underpinning to the effects of red in specific historical periods? How about cultural relevance? Is red equally powerful and enticing in say, Muslim and Japanese arts as in Western art? Ancient Chinese loved the colour red, which to them was prosperity and fortune; it’s the colour of marriage and happiness. So they’d pay any price for that.
There is another layer of meaning to red in modern Chinese art. The so-called ‘Red Revolution’ period of demonstrably Soviet-inspired paintings – and I’m not only talking about the propagada posters, but a whole range of pieces ranging from realism to abstract and surrealism that are obsessed with an almost cathartic self-examination of the past. Then there is the overt parody of the red period, the cynical use of the red and the market’s one-time love for politically charged works.
Once the market heat is cooled off, we begin to see the return of more composed, subtle and sober colours commandeering the palette again. What does it say about the colour red? Psychological? Historical?
I’m not sure. But what I’m sure is that the top five lots from this season’s Christie’s Spring Sale in Hong Kong all feature earthy to dark colours.
Feature image: Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, ‘La Coiffeur’ (Combing the hair), circa 1896. The National Gallery. UK.