While one might assume it impossible to put a price on dreams, Christie’s did just that last night by affixing a $1.915 million tag on Bea Arthur Naked, John Currin’s infamous topless portrait of the late Maude star, once more standing up for women’s liberation by airing her unfettered breasts. If something seems weird or unsettling about that to you, you’re right: The painting fetched less than its estimated going rate of $2.5 million, a number Christie’s reached through a careful algorithm of calculating the rarity of ever seeing Bea Arthur’s breasts—something not even Currin accomplished, forcing him, like all of us, to use his imagination—then multiplying it by the infamy the painting had accrued since 1991 and the curiosity stoked by Airheads, and finally, completely ignoring the fact that you can see it for free, right now, on the Internet. (Unless it’s on The Daily Beast’s Facebook page, where posting a thumbnail of Bea Arthur Naked got the site and its staff banned for 24 hours. Art, it seems, still has the power to challenge authority.)
Of course, mere pixels can’t contain the majesty of a naked Bea Arthur. As Christie’s auction notes remind, “The flat precise linear style recalls the rigidness of Otto Dix or Christian Schad, with intimations of Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer, and yet her strong, piercing gaze and dark eyes are reminiscent of the confidence of Edouard Manet's iconic Olympia.” It also has Bea Arthur’s naked tits, with strong evocations of Bea Arthur’s naked tits.
Whoever the anonymous buyer is that is definitely not Betty White—who is definitely not standing before it nightly now, chuckling sardonically as she swirls a brandy, cocks a bloodshot eye at Bea Arthur’s nipple, and whispers a slurry, “Thank you for being a friend”—got a deal.