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How to Understand Why an Awesome Book Cover Became Expensive Fine Art

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Yesterday, we shared with you the news that Glenn Brown's painting, which is very closely based on an Isaac Asimov book cover by Chris Foss, sold for $5.7 million at auction. Now, over at Scientific American's Symbiartic blog, Glendon Mellow provides some essential context for this.

Top image: Tony Roberts' Double Star and Brown's The Loves of Shepherds.

First of all, a few details that may have slipped through the cracks in yesterday's story (in which case I apologize) — Glenn Brown copied Foss' work over a dozen years ago, and it previously sold in 2002. Brown himself is not going to see a penny of that $5.7 million because he already sold the painting. Also, by all accounts, Brown hasn't been copying science-fiction book covers in the past decade, focusing more on doing weird remixes of classical paintings. Like this:


Although it seems to be fair to say the science fiction stuff helped make Brown's reputation and made him seem more relevant, and it obviously still gets a lot of attention today from the fine art world.

And finally, Foss says he gave Brown permission to remix his work, while Foss was distracted by working on Stanley Kubrick's A.I. and didn't notice what he was agreeing to. Foss apparently regretted this afterwards, once he saw Brown's work getting nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2000.


With that out of the way, you should definitely check out Mellow's article, which includes a crash course in the history of modernism and post-modernism. As he says, "You may not know the history of dubstep to feel you hate a dubstep mix of Beethoven's Fifth. But the story of how dubstep came to be still matters to the final piece of music."

And Mellow provides a good explanation as to why the size of Brown's paintings, blowing up every detail and adding loads of texture, does really make a difference from the science fiction works he references. And why the subject matter of the paintings may not be the main thing people in the art world notice, or care about.

And only then, once he's given loads of context and provided you with a grounding in how this art is culturally relevant, does Mellow explain why he thinks Brown's work is "crappy fine art" — but the art we culturally deserve. Well worth a read. [Scientific American]