May 30, 2012

Hong Kong Hello - Part III

Hong Kong is a fascinating city - a metropolis of long standing tradition and avant-garde modernity co-existing in a whirlwind of frenetic activity that is actually quite controlled.  I arrived in Hong Kong not really knowing what to expect and leaving with a greater appreciation of its rich civilization but knowing I had merely scratched the surface.

It is a city of contrasts.  East meets West, colonial buildings and skyscrapers, super speed trains and old fashioned double decker trams, ultra luxe shopping malls and helter skelter outdoor markets, feng shui and state-of-the-art architecture, densely populated apartment buildings and lush tropical forests.  Today's Hong Kong reflects its entrenched British heritage but is fast forwarding as Asia's premier financial and cultural center.

The history of modern Hong Kong began in 1842 when Britain claimed this group of fishing villages on the South China Sea after the First Opium War with China.  Initially just comprising the actual island of Hong Kong, the empire expanded to include Kowloon just to the north in 1860 and the New Territories beyond that in 1898.  Under the principal of "One Country, Two Systems" Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997 and is now a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China.  People familiar with Hong Kong before the handover say it has become far more Chinese in flavor although from my perspective the British influence seemed entrenched.  Everything from the street names (Queensway, Salisbury Road and Connaught Road, for example) right-hand drive vehicles, an abundance of lawn bowling and cricket greens, and the ritual of high tea all spoke of the lasting and profound imprint of colonial rule.

I was amazed by many things about the city: the passion for colored lights on every tall building, the labyrinth of indoor or covered walkways to protect pedestrians from the elements, the elegantly dressed people, the vast number of gold and jade shops, the availability of spanking clean public restrooms and the wealth of antiquities at the Hong Kong Museum of Art to name just a few.

I was amused by the laundry lines hanging from nearly every apartment balcony, the number of riders who could fit into a subway car, the bamboo scaffolding on the most modern of buildings, the chaos of signs suspended over roadways, and the number of people hawking "copy" watches and designer handbags!

And I remain enchanted with the nightly light show as seen from the Kowloon side...

...the dim sum trollies at Maxim's Palace in City Hall...

...riding on the upper level of the "ding ding" tram...

 ...and most of all, the spectacular skyline view from the Star Ferry.

I did not have a chance to visit the Asia Society or the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware, nor did I eat at a wet market where the fish is caught and prepared to order.  I would like to have taken a harbour cruise on the Duk Ling, a restored Chinese fishing junk, played the ponies at the Happy Valley Racecourse and hiked the Dragon's Back trail to cross Hong Kong Island.  It's nice to have these things to look forward to the next time - and I hope it comes soon!

May 27, 2012

A Day Trip to Macau

An hour's ferry ride from Hong Kong, on the western bank of the Pearl River Delta, lies Macau.  Originally settled by Chinese farmers who called it "A Ma Gau" in honor of the patron goddess of sailors, A-Ma, it became the first European colony in East Asia when it was taken over by the Portuguese in 1557.  In 1999 it was handed over to the People's Republic of China and is now a SAR (Special Administrative Region) similar to Hong Kong.

For centuries Macau thrived as a shipping and trade intermediary between Asia and the rest of the world.  It was also a major outpost for Western religions with St. Francis Xavier being one of the first missionaries.  This Christian legacy is still quite evident in the many surviving churches and legions of children wearing parochial school uniforms.  With the British victory over China in the 1814 Opium War, Macau's status as the topmost international port was surpassed by the deep-water harbour of Hong Kong.  Macau was demoted to a sleepy fishing town although it played an important role as a refugee center during World Wars I and II and the Cultural Revolution.

It was in the 1960s that Macau earned its somewhat seedy reputation as a mecca for gambling, espionage and crime.  Held for decades under the iron grip of Dr. Stanley Ho, the gaming industry had a major rehabilitation when, as part of the 1999 handover agreement, he lost his monopoly and new casinos were allowed to open.  By 2006 Macau had surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenue as players bet an average of five times more than their Western counterparts!

This remarkable history and invigorated future intrigued me, so last Thursday morning I boarded the TurboJet along with a couple of hundred not-too-prosperous looking but dedicated gamblers and set off to visit Macau.  From the ferry terminal I took the free shuttle bus to Wynn Macau, the Asian outpost of Steve Wynn's Las Vegas Empire.  Just like its counterpart on The Strip, this casino is a showstopper with marble and gold, hundreds of baccarat tables and slot machines, swanky shops and restaurants and a drop-dead lobby.  Although touted as the most "family friendly" of the local casinos, there was no one at the swimming pool and there did not appear to be the same amusements or shows that Las Vegas has become famous for.  Visitors to Macau casinos are there to gamble.  Period.

I must confess to having a few vices, but gambling is not one of them, so after a look around and a bite of lunch I headed off to explore the old town.  The first sight I came across is not really historic but an integral part of the story of Macau and a pretty amazing structure to see.  The Casino Lisboa is the original gaming hall opened by Dr. Ho in 1965 and it stands connected to its newer, flashier sister, the Grand Lisboa.  A landmark on the city skyline, the soaring golden lotus-flower top with its disco ball base takes glitz to the extreme!

From there I edged my way on the crowded streets lined with jewelry shops to the heart of the old town, Senado Square, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The pastel colored buildings with their iron balconies and colorful tiles were perched on steep hills just like in Lisbon.  Only the signs in both Portuguese and Cantonese reminded me that I was actually in China!

Walking along winding black and white mosaic patterned sidewalks, another vestige of Macau's Portuguese heritage, soon led me to the beautiful Igreja de São Domingos (St. Dominic's Church).  This confection of yellow and cream began as a convent in 1587 and was immaculately restored in 1997.

I continued past a plethora of shops selling pasteis de nata, Macau's signature sweet custard tarts that seemed to be popular with tourists and locals alike until I came to the adopted symbol of the city, the Ruinas de São Paolo.  At the top of the stone stairs flanked by a carpet of flowers stands all that remains of the original Church of the Mater Dei.  Built in the first half of the 17th century, this Jesuit church was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1835 save for the façade and a few bronze statues.

Next to the church but up a very steep hill lies the Fortaleza do Monte, the Mount Fortress.  A stroll along the ramparts offers amazing views of the entire city and it was from here that a Jesuit priest's lucky cannon shot saved the day against Dutch invaders in 1622!

A second fortress beckoned and I wandered back down the hill and through neighborhood streets in search of the Fortaleza da Guia.  It was a little trickier to find than the map indicated but eventually I came to the Jardim de Flora, the Flora Garden and availed myself of the 4 pataca (about 30¢) cable car ride up to the top of yet another hill.  From here I expected to be able to see the fortress and lighthouse and walk back down on the other side but it was not as simple as I had hoped.  I suppose I should have realized that the blacked out signs pointing in the direction I thought I wanted to go were not vandalized but deliberately defaced, as there was no path down the mountain!  Eventually, after navigating steep steps and a roadway that was under construction, I managed to emerge on the waterfront, hot but safe and not too far from the ferry terminal.

The final stretch passed local residents walking their dogs, pushing baby strollers and energetically working out on colorful public exercise equipment.  En route to the ferry the pedestrian walkway passes right over the pit lane for the Macau Grand Prix.  Started in 1953, this is one of the oldest and most popular stops on the auto racing circuit with the most glamorous event, the World Cup of Formula Three, occurring each November.

My adventure was nearly over.  It was time to catch the 6 o'clock ferry back to Kowloon and leave behind this historic and modern, Portuguese and Chinese, mysterious and enlightened mélange that is Macau!

May 25, 2012

Hong Kong Hello - Part II

Unlike most European cities, Hong Kong does not have a main cathedral or large religious building that sits at the center of the old town.  There are a few brick churches in the Western style including the lovely St John's on Garden Road, an Anglican church built in 1849 to service the British community and still an active parish, but nothing as imposing as say Notre Dame in Paris or St Paul's in London.

But like so many relics in this mysterious city, a little exploring beyond the obvious will reward the visitor with a glimpse of history and a better idea of how Hong Kong natives really live.  In an effort to get out of the main tourist areas and to see more of the "real" city, I took the tram, or "ding ding" as it is affectionately referred to, all the way to its Shau Kei Wan terminus.  Formerly a fishing village and typhoon shelter, Shau Kei Wan is located on the eastern end of Hong Kong and is home to the Museum of Coastal Defence as well as several old but still functioning temples.

The few remaining temples are quite small in size but well used and open every day from 8-5.  They are not individual parishes, but government run institutions each with a small staff to maintain and run the buildings.  Admission is free and there is incense available for purchase should one wish to appeal to the deities.  Each temple has an altar before which the incense in burned and offerings of oranges, sweets or money can be left.

The first stop on my temple tour was Shing Wong Temple. Built in 1877 as Fook Tak Tsz, it was expanded in the 1970s and is very popular with the local people.  Rows and rows of Buddha-like figures adorn one altar while deeper inside are three altars each with a single deity.

Not far away is Tin Hau Temple built in 1876.  Dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, this small temple features a pair of stone lions at the entrance and several lovely murals decorate the walls.

Closer to the water and squeezed between a garage and some run down houses is a tiny but functioning temple - Yuk Wong.  Converted into a temple in the early 20th century, it was originally a shrine built in the mid 19th century by people from Mainland China who worked in a nearby stone quarry.  I did not enter this temple as it felt a little invasive and frankly not that inspiring!

The last temple in Shau Kei Wan is also close to the water and honors one of the few deities known only to Hong Kong.  Tam Kung Temple is over 100 years old and is dedicated to the patron of fishermen.  The large cones you see overhead are incense coils with metal pans to catch the falling ashes.

To finish up my Hong Kong temple tour I took the metro back to Western to visit what is believed to be the areas oldest temple - Man Mo.  It is dedicated to the Taoist Gods of literature (Man, who wears green) and of war (Mo, who wears red).  Because of its central location it was visited by not only local residents for worship, but also busloads of tourists looking to learn their fortunes.  Its interior was the most lavish of any I visited as were the offerings to the deities!

It was now late afternoon and very hot and sticky.  I had covered all of the temples on my list and now it was time to go back to the hotel for a swim in the pool before a dinner of Peking Duck!  Hong Kong is marvelous and I'll be back soon with more!

May 24, 2012

Three Days in Shanghai

After making the giant trip across the Pacific to Hong Kong, it seemed a shame to just turn around and go home without seeing a little more of the region.  The debate between Beijing and Shanghai as side trips was quickly decided when an email arrived from my old friend Pamela announcing that her husband had accepted a three year position and they had moved with their four teenage children from Raleigh, NC, to, you guessed it, Shanghai, China!

Modern day Shanghai is a study in reinvention.  Once the “Paris of the Orient” a magnet for all things decadent and beautiful, Shanghai fell under Japanese Occupation from 1930 until the end of World War II when Mao Tse-tung became leader of the People's Republic of China.  What followed was the terror of the Cultural Revolution and later the violence of the Gang of Four.  It was not until 1990 that Shanghai became a part of the outside world again and they have been playing an impressive game of catch-up ever since.

Today Shanghai is a thriving metropolis with all the bells and whistles of a cosmopolitan city.  Towering skyscrapers, an efficient metro system, and foreign luxury boutiques are all evidence of the desire to become a “world city”.  But there are still many pockets of the old Shanghai, and many of the older residents and neighborhoods seem frozen in another age.

Arriving at Pudong International was like fast forwarding through time.  This is without question the biggest airport I have ever seen and it seemed deserted.  Transportation to the downtown area is provided by Maglev train – the world’s first commercial magnetic levitation rail system that links the airport to Longyang Road Metro station in 8 minutes traveling at a top speed of 430 km/hr (approximately 267 mph).

Living in New York has left me somewhat blasé about big cities, but Shanghai is nothing if not impressive.  The scene from my 50th floor hotel room was jaw dropping.  The hotel designers must have thought so too as guests had a full skyline view from the bath and shower as well as the living area!

Unfortunately it was a very rainy Saturday morning when Pamela picked us up for our initial walking tour but we set off armed with umbrellas, cameras, and great anticipation.  We started at the cricket market – an enclave of vendors selling caged animals of every sort from birds, fish, mice, squirrels, a few dogs and thousands of the biggest crickets you have ever seen!  Some of the crickets were in small glass jars with perforated lids, and some were in tiny bamboo cages, and all of them were chirping vociferously.

From here we walked over to an outdoor market for typical Chinese souvenirs where we went directly to a young woman who sold silk products like bags, tablecloths and faux Louis Vuitton scarves.  After much bargaining and a lot of laughing too we walked away with shopping bags full of merchandise for what seemed like a pittance.

Our souvenir shopping done, it was time to see some sights so we boarded the Metro to Yuyuan, a classical garden originally created in the 16th Century by Pan Yunduan in honor of his father.  Today the garden comprises 12 acres in the middle of Old Town and is a lovely example of a Ming garden with rock gardens, ponds full of koi, and bridges surrounding corridors and pavilions.

Across the street from the Yu Garden is a large shopping and food area with a few original structures mixed in with the reconstructions.  All this walking had worked up an appetite and a stop at the Huxinting Tea House was just the ticket.  After, it was fun to walk around and watch the vendors hawking their wares amid shadow puppet shows and other entertainment before heading back to the hotel for a rest and to dry out before dinner.

The next day was overcast but fortunately the rain had stopped.  The morning started with a walk down the Nanjing Donglu, a pedestrian shopping street, to The Bund, the waterfront area bordering the Huangpu River.  Formerly the dock area and therefore the commercial heart of old Shanghai, this stretch is now primarily a place to stroll and admire the amazing views of Pudong's skyscrapers.  Facing the avenue are still a few impressive old buildings including the Art Deco masterpiece The Peace Hotel (formerly the Cathay Hotel) where Noel Coward wrote "Private Lives", the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building with its remarkable mosaic ceilings and the former Customs House with its clock tower known as "Big Ching".

It was time to walk back to the hotel to meet Pamela for the next expedition.  The route along Fuzhou Lu was a lovely surprise as it is the area for art supply shops and each displayed magnificent calligraphy brushes and beautiful drawing papers in the windows. But we were going to explore the former French Concession and that involved another Metro ride this time to Huaihai Zhonglu, a very chic shopping street and the starting point for our tour.

For almost a century Shanghai was divided into various foreign territories, or concessions, including the French Concession from 1849 until 1946.  Today it remains a unique neighborhood, very European in feeling, in the middle of the big city.  Shady lanes with boutiques and restaurants invite a leisurely walk, but always being mindful of kamikaze bicyclists and taxis!  Our tour focused on the wonderful Art Deco architecture that despite its present state of dilapidation is a lasting reminder of the heyday of the French territory.

By the end of the afternoon, having reached the former home of Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong May-ling, we had worked up a massive thirst.  Conveniently, and rather amazingly, the area is full of beer gardens serving Chinese brews as well as Carlsberg, Kronenburg and other European beers.  Sitting under the trees surrounded by colonial and art deco buildings, one could easily forget one was sitting in the middle of Shanghai, China!

The next morning we were
blessed with sunny skies and low humidity - perfect for a walk though People's Square to the Shanghai Museum.  Opened in 1996 to house a major collection of Chinese antiquities, the building's exterior resembles an ancient bronze ding tripod (food vessel).  Admission is free and the presentation is truly extraordinary.  Galleries for bronzes, calligraphy, jade, porcelain and furniture are chock full with exquisite examples from every period in Chinese history and contrary to expectations, the explanatory plaques were very well written in Mandarin and English.

The last stop in my Shanghai tour was a visit to the Pearl Market.  With Pamela leading the way, we set off via Metro to what seemed like the suburbs but was still very much part of the city.  Tucked in a corner of a mall-like venue was a purveyor of pearls - black pearls, white pearls, freshwater pearls, Tahitian pearls and any other kind of pearl your heart could desire - at prices that seemed ridiculous.  Charles has been in the pearl business all his life, his parents had had a pearl farm, and his passion for these precious objects was obvious.  I came away with a few more pearls than I had anticipated but the experience itself was worth the trip.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here in Shanghai - the food, the shopping, the sights and the history have all be fascinating.  I am astonished at how a city of nearly 30 million people, having lived until recently under terrible repression, can function so well and so efficiently.  It is a city of marvels and contrasts where the past meets the present and the future is beckoning all at the same time.  It is the mysterious Orient!

P.S.  With heartfelt thanks to my dear friend Pamela and her family for making this visit so wonderful!

May 16, 2012

Hong Kong Hello - Part I

After years of dreaming, months of planning and a sixteen hour flight, I arrived in Hong Kong, Asia's World City, ready to be dazzled but unprepared for just how cosmopolitan it really is.  I could tell from the express train ride from the airport to the Central Station that this was going to be even more exciting than I had anticipated and I had come with high expectations!

A curious combination of ancient Asian and British Colonial cultures, present day Hong Kong is a dynamic mélange of East and West with old and new co-existing if not in total harmony then with a mutual respect.

Because Hong Kong is such a multi-faceted city, I thought the best place to begin is at the top.  And where better to truly appreciate the full panorama than Victoria Peak - the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island.  At 1,810 feet above sea level, "The Peak" began as a signaling post for incoming cargo and mail ships.  The area later became a retreat from the summer heat and humidity for wealthy Hong Kong residents who were transported up and down the steep Peak paths by sedan chairs carried by two strong coolies.  In 1888 the Peak Tram began operation.  It was the first funicular railway in Asia and it  opened up the area for the residential development than now dots the mountainside in the form of towering apartment buildings.

Today the Peak Tram is primarily a tourist attraction offering a very fun ride up and down the mountain at gradients of between 4 to 27 degrees.  The rather unattractive building at the top, the Sky Terrace 428, features a 360˚ viewing platform and the vistas are incredible.  Looking North and East toward Kowloon and the New Territories you can see downtown Central Hong Kong and the deep water harbour:

Or looking North and West you can see Wan Chai and Causeway Bay:

Or looking South, away from the City, you can see how verdant and lush the undeveloped areas are: 

Although some hardy souls chose to descend from the mountaintop on foot along curving pathways, I took the easy option and returned the same way I had come up, on the Peak Tram and once again marveled at the amazing engineering of the buildings perched on the mountain, the magnificent views and the g-forces of the incline.  

Much like in San Francisco, walking in Hong Kong involves a lot of climbing, but the city planners addressed this issue early on with the construction of the Midlevel Escalators.  This covered escalator system extends from the waterfront at the border of the Western and Central sections midway up to Victoria Peak.  Residents of the so-called "Midlevels" can take this series of moving walkways down to work from 6-10 AM and back up the hill from 10 AM until midnight, free of charge.

This seemed like the perfect way to explore several areas of the city in one fell swoop so I began at the beginning, at the now defunct Central Market, and alternately rode and walked in covered comfort to the terminus of the escalators. 

Hong Kong is almost tropical in climate at this time of year, and according to the locals this May seems to be even hotter than usual, but despite the heat and humidity it was a very pleasant ride and a great way to sightsee.  In fact, because the walkway is elevated, one could look right inside second and third story windows of shops and apartments along the route!

Every block or so I stepped aside to view the streets below, some with chaotic looking signage, and tent-like stalls set up to sell everything from souvenirs to medicinal herbs. As the "travelator" mounted the hill, the residences got progressively more upscale and by the time the ride was over the apartment buildings were luxurious high-rises.

In the next few days I am looking forward to exploring Hong Kong's wonderful food, shopping, architecture and rich culture and I'll be posting several blogs to share my adventures with you.   I hope you'll come back and join me on this Asian sojourn.

May 08, 2012

Cindy Sherman at MoMA

This Spring, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, is presenting a retrospective of one of the most important and well known artists working today.  This doyenne of contemporary art is the American Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) whose large format color photographs have pushed the boundaries of self portraiture as an expression of our society and cultural identity.

Cindy Sherman began her artistic career as a student in Buffalo, NY, in the 1970s.  Now, forty years later, her photographs are among the most sought after and fetch the highest prices of any living artist.  This exhibition presents over 170 works and covers her key bodies of work including the groundbreaking "Untitled Film Stills" (1977-80), an encyclopedic series comprising 70 black and white photos depicting stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950s and 60s Hollywood; centerfold series (1981); history portraits (1989-90);  head shots (2000-2002); clowns (2003-2004) (see below "Untitled # 417") and society portraits (2008) (see left "Untitled # 466").  Also presented for the first time in the United States is Sherman's latest mural works (2010) that dominate the entrance to the exhibition on the museum's sixth floor.

What is unique about Cindy Sherman's work is that she is solo operator.  Rather than working with models and assistants, Ms Sherman shoots alone in her studio and assumes the multiple roles of director, stylist, make-up artist, hairdresser, model and photographer.  She portrays her vision herself using her wardrobe and cosmetologist skills and a full arsenal of wigs, costumes, prosthetics and props, and her expert photographer's eye to compose and create the shot.  Appearing as a vamp, a housewife, an aging socialite, a clown or a career woman, Ms. Sherman captures the essence of how we as a society perceive these roles.   The results are hugely insightful social and cultural commentaries on subjects ranging from artifice, status, class and gender identity.

I can't say that I would want to live with one of her oversize, brightly colored chromogenic prints on my living room wall, but this exhibition did give me a much greater appreciation for her work.  The show will remain at MoMA until June 11, 2012 when it moves to San Francisco for the summer, Minneapolis for the fall and winter and Dallas, Texas for the spring of 2013.

May 01, 2012

Sotheby's and "The Scream"

In what promises to be the highlight of a very exciting Spring auction season, this week Sotheby's is offering one of the most famous images in art history, Edvard Munch's "The Scream".  Created in 1895, this pastel on rough cardboard example is the third of four versions the artist produced between 1983 and 1910.  Ranging from crayon to tempera and with various color schemes the central figure remains the same - a twisted, tadpole-like person clutching his ears with his mouth open in an "O".

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is considered a Symbolist painter and printmaker and is probably Norway's most famous artist.  With a history of mental illness in his family, he painted "The Scream" when he was an alcoholic, a chain-smoker, penniless and despondent of a recent love affair gone sour.  The figure in the painting is standing at a popular suicide spot in Oslo - a location where one could hear screaming from both a nearby slaughterhouse and an asylum for the insane (where the artist's sister Laura was institutionalized).  Conceived as part of Munch's epic series the "Frieze of Life:  A Poem About Life, Love and Death" the painting came about as "[Munch] was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood.  I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired.  Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear.  Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."

Dubbed "the face that launched 1,000 therapists", Munch's angst ridden character has been reproduced in every format from mouse pads to Homer Simpson cartoons and remains one of the most recognizable images of our time.  Of course this begs the question of why are people so drawn to such a clearly distraught personage?  I certainly don't know but Sotheby's is laying a heavy bet that this example, the last one still in private hands and the only one in a special frame inscribed with a Munch poem that is said to have inspired the work.  How big is the bet?  That I can tell you.  The pre-sale estimate is a cool $80 Million - and they have several potential bidders lined up!

The frenzy to glimpse this painting, last seen in the United States on a loan to the National Gallery of Art in Washington in the 1990s, has been such that the auction house required potential visitors to sign up as Sotheby's clients and secure a $5,000 line of credit before being able to make an appointment.  The London audience exceeded 7,500 in five days of viewing with thousands being turned away.  Those patient souls who queued up for a look were kept at a good distance from the actual painting and even then it was behind glass.  A handful of top tier collectors, those billionaires considered prospective buyers, were permitted private viewings and in a very few cases even had the painting delivered to their homes so they could "live" with it while making a decision.

It was my extreme good fortune to have been granted access to a private preview at Sotheby's New York last week.  As you can imagine the security was tremendous and we were escorted up to the tenth floor exhibition space that had been transformed into a church-like viewing area.  Surrounded by a swarm of Norwegian media people, we gazed at this masterpiece, now spot-lit and isolated and positively glowing, though smaller than I had expected.

As I mentioned, this is the only example not in a museum collection.  It was probably commissioned by a German coffee magnate and at some point ended up in the possession of Mr Thomas Olsen, a patron and neighbor of the artist who lived in the Norwegian town of Hvitsten.   Mr Olsen is credited with saving "The Scream" and other Munch works from the bonfires of the Nazis searching for degenerate art during World War II.  It is now the property of Mr Olsen's son, Petter Olsen, a Norwegian real-estate developer who is selling the painting to fund a museum dedicated to Munch's work.

Now comes the question - have Sotheby's and Mr Olsen accurately gauged the interest of the buying public in this celebrated but very disturbing work of art?  There have certainly been some astronomical art prices achieved at auction in recent months, but is an $80 million estimate, the highest pre-sale estimate in history, tantalizing or a deal breaker?  Happily we don't have long to wait!  The painting goes on the block on Wednesday evening, May 2, Lot # 20 out of 76 works being offered.  I'll be back soon after to let you know if the gamble paid off and "The Scream" made history!

P.S.  Bidding on "The Scream" opened at $40 million and progressed at million dollar increments to the final hammer price of $107 million to a telephone bidder.  That makes it the most expensive painting ever sold at auction for a final price of $119,900,000!  Maybe we should re-name it "The $cream"!