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From letters exchanged in 1982 between the Whitney Museum of American Art and an author and critic referred to here as E.R. Harper’s Magazine obtained the letters in November.

 

Dear Sir:

My husband and I were co-authors of a book about art collecting. As such, we continue to be interested in factors that determine values in art. Hence this letter, which is seriously intended. We are seeking an authoritative explanation for the $1 million value set by the Whitney Museum on Jasper Johns’s Three Flags and would greatly appreciate what you might have to say about it.

Sincerely yours, E.R.

 

Dear Madam:

In response to your recent letter concerning the market price of Three Flags by Jasper Johns, the only explanation for the price paid by the Whitney Museum is that it was the price established by the market. We were one of four buyers willing to pay and were privileged to have the first option to acquire it. Your interest is greatly appreciated.

Yours very truly, the Whitney

 

Dear Sir:

Thank you for your letter. It does not, however, answer our question. We understand how the art market works. We are seeking to learn what there is about this painting artistically, aesthetically, that would make four collectors willing to pay this rather large amount for what appears to be a rather ordinary subject. The question was seriously intended.

Sincerely, E.R.

 

Dear Madam:

I am afraid it is difficult, in brief, to explain the importance of Three Flags or to reassure you that it was appropriate for the Whitney to acquire the work for a large sum of money. Unless you are vitally involved in understanding the art of our century, this work may not be as meaningful to you as it is to those who consider it to be one of the great accomplishments of twentieth-century American painting. Enclosed is a brief text about the painting.

Yours very truly, the Whitney