Reader invitation: Write a caption

  • Article by: DAVID BANKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2012 - 8:33 PM

Tonight -- knock on Norwegian wood -- an original of the classic painting 'The Scream' will sell for millions. Here's a way to play along.


Photo: Tim Brinton, NewsArt

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If you had been alive in the late 19th century, had lived in Norway and had been friends with Edvard Munch, you may have found yourself walking along the edge of the Oslofjord one evening at sunset when Edvard stopped abruptly and had himself a moment of terror over the enormity of it all.

We've all been there. Sometimes it sneaks up on you.

If you had been there with Edvard, you'd be aware that although he was prone to personal anguish and was having a rough go of things, he recovered enough from this particular panic attack to turn the occasion into a painting known as "The Scream," which since has become rather well-known.

Over the years Munch produced a handful of originals, and had you been smart and/or exploitative, you would've bummed one of them at a bargain price and bequeathed it to your descendants, who on this very day in 2012 would be offering it up for sale at Sotheby's, with the hope of collecting at least $80 million and maybe a lot more.

It would've been one of the smartest investments you could have made. You get ahead only if the money you don't spend is invested in assets that appreciate in value faster than the inflation rate, which in the United States has averaged around 3 percent a year over the last century.

The first house you bought after migrating to America, had it remained in your family to this day, might have appreciated 3 to 5 percent on an annual basis, depending on the current state of the bubble. Your gold (which of course you possessed in abundance) would've gone up about 4 percent a year.

But if your heirs had owned the painting, and had managed to fend off various burglary attempts over the years, they'd be up perhaps a cool 17 percent annualized -- not a bad inflation hedge, and possibly what an optimistic investment advisor once told them to expect from their 401(k)s.

But back here in the real world, there's a 99 percent chance that you are not a member of the 1 percent, and that at best you own a $7.99 poster or a bitmapped screensaver of "The Scream." (The actual painting up for auction is owned by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, member of a prominent shipping family. It hung in his family's living room when he was a kid.)

Since you can't participate in today's auction, and since you don't want to sit around moping about what might have been, we're offering a diversion. Opinion page designer Bruce Bjerva, an armchair art connoisseur who wanted to scream at the thought that the painting was shipped around the world so that prospective purchasers could see if it matched the curtains, found the accompanying illustration at a stock-art site.

In addition to caricaturing today's news event, it seems to lend itself to one of those contests, à la the New Yorker magazine, in which we offer up an image and you supply the caption. We invite you to participate by appending a comment.

This isn't a real contest; there's no prize except for the smug satisfaction of being cleverer than your fellow contributors. But since most commenters use aliases, you've got nothing to lose, so go ahead and take a risk. (Just not too much of a risk, since our website is, after all, a politically correct community asset.)

A few meager ideas to get you started:

• "Here's a little something I came up with last night while grooming my cat ..."

• "Thanks for visiting the Viking Lounge. However, without public support for a modern venue, we'll have to move future open-mike nights to Los Angeles."

• "What do you mean, I get paid in euros?"

Good luck. And remember: This pain, too, shall pass.

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