The world's most expensive painting has gone on view at Tate Modern – but the incredible price tag destroys any lasting sense of its worth.
When Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for £66m at Christie's in New York in 2010, it set a record as the most expensive auction sale of a painting ever. Less than a year later, Tate Modern has The Most Expensive Painting on view, thanks to the anonymous owner and widespread press coverage of the loan. So now we can go along to Bankside and ask a somewhat crude question: is it worth the money?
For now, this Picasso is all about its price tag, and the display at Tate Modern is poisoned if you know its damned value. The painting has a gold frame, unlike the other Picasso works in the room, as if to stress its expense. But when you look closely it is not a gold frame at all: it has simply been painted gold.
Even in a small display of just four Picassos, the Expensive, Special, Luxury Picasso is not the masterpiece in the room. That is Three Dancers, part of the Tate collection – that's right, it's in public hands – and one of Picasso's most powerful, complex creations. In this painting, Picasso's cubist attack on pictorial space is electrified by passion, sex, and anger. The result violently recalls his early painted manifesto Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
By comparison, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust is ... lovely. But it is not inherently more wonderful than the other erotic portraits Picasso painted in the same period. A lot of them are in the Musée Picasso in Paris, property of the French state. Another is in this Tate Modern room, again from the Tate collection, and I find it just as entrancing. In fact, for a Picasso, the Most Expensive is rather simple, lacking in energy. It is a big picture in which not a lot happens. Picasso is greatest when he is most complex or provocative. Matisse did simple beauty better.
Iam probably being unfair. But money has corrupted this display; it looks like a serious museum room but feels, when you know about the auction and the dollar-eyed publicity, like an expensive jeweller's. Why not just open a high-end boutique at Tate Modern? It would probably be very popular.
Money has gone mad: it can break entire countries, then buy a Picasso for £66m. Picasso certainly has value. But after seeing this painting, I am no longer sure what value is. Perhaps a painting is just a luxury good, after all, and not even one you can wear.