French playwright Yasmina Reza garnered international acclaim with her play Art (1994), for which she received the 1998 Lawrence Olivier Award for best comedy and the 1998 Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best play, as well as Molière awards for best author, best play, and best production.
Art concerns the cataclysmic effect on three friends, Serge, Marc, and Yvan, when Serge purchases an expensive work of abstract art—a large painting consisting of white lines on a white canvas. As the three men engage in an ongoing debate over the value of the painting, emotions run high and the conflict escalates to the point of nearly destroying a long-standing friendship.
At one level, the debate over the painting in Art revolves around a question of aesthetic values, weighing the significance of modern abstract art in comparison to more traditional representational art. At another level, the purchase of the painting by Serge comes to symbolize a deeper rift in his friendship with Marc, a piece of concrete evidence that the two of them have grown apart. Yvan attempts to play the part of mediator between Serge and Marc but is inevitably drawn into the conflict at a deeper level.
Art addresses themes exploring various aspects of the nature of friendship. Most critics agree that Art is less about debates over artistic values than it is about the complexities of friendship. As Robert Hurwitt observed in a review for the San Francisco Chronicle, ‘‘Art isn’t about aesthetics but the psychological, emotional and power dynamics of friendship.’’