'Art' (the quotation marks are part of the title) is a comedic play by Yasmina Reza, which raises questions about art and friendship.
The plot concerns three old friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan. Serge has just indulged his penchant for modern art by buying a large, expensive and almost blank white painting. Marc is horrified, and their relationship suffers considerable strain. Yvan is caught in the middle, trying to please and mollify each of them in turn.
'Art' has been translated into at least twenty languages.
The English translation is by Christopher Hampton.
The original French version of the play  opened on 28 October 1994 at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées theater in Paris, with Fabrice Luchini as Serge, Pierre Arditi as Yvan and Pierre Vaneck as Marc. The director was Patrice Kerbrat.
National premieres included:
Structure and staging
The play is not divided into acts and scenes in the traditional manner, but it does nevertheless fall into sections (numbered 1 - 17 by Pigeat ). Some of these are dialogues between two of the characters - Marc and Serge, Marc and Yvan, Serge and Yvan, and then Marc and Yvan again - several of them are solos where one or other character addresses the audience directly, and one - which lasts for over half the play - is a conversation among all three.
The scenes are in three different locations - the flats of the three characters - but the stage directions specify that they are all to be "as stripped down and neutral as possible", and that between them "nothing changes, except for the painting on the wall".
At the beginning and end of the play, and for most of the scenes set in Serge's flat, the large white painting (referred to as "the Antrios", that being the name of the painter) is on prominent show. (Some productions have dispensed with a physical painting, and instead sited a notional canvas off-stage towards the audience).
The first dialogue is in Serge's flat: Marc sees the Antrios (the white painting) and is appalled to hear that Serge has paid two hundred thousand francs for what he calls "a piece of white shit", but tries to laugh it off. Each of them has moments in which they tell the audience about each other, and how disturbed each is by the other's behaviour.
Marc goes to see Yvan (after telling the audience that Yvan is "a very tolerant bloke, which of course, when it comes to relationships, is the worst thing you can be"). Yvan introduces himself to the audience, explaining that he is a likeable failure, and about to get married. Marc arrives and tells him about Serge and the painting, and gets frustrated that while Yvan agrees that Serge's behaviour is absurd, he refuses to condemn it or to be particularly worried or upset by it.
Yvan goes to see Serge, and Serge shows him the painting. Yvan does not burst out laughing at it as he expected, and indeed gives every appearance of appreciating the painting.
Back at Marc's flat, Marc cross-examines Yvan about what happened at Serge's. He is again appalled that Yvan is 'parrotting Serge's nonsense', and tries to get Yvan to agree with his view.
The longest segment, in Serge's flat, involves all three of them. Marc and Serge are waiting for Yvan to arrive, so that they can all go out to the cinema. Marc has decided to be 'on best behaviour' with Serge: even when Serge taunts him he does not rise to the bait. But Yvan is late, and when Serge becomes disproportionately annoyed, Marc says that this is because he (Marc) is getting on Serge's nerves. Serge denies this, but then admits it to the audience.
Yvan arrives in a torrent of disjointed and almost unpunctuated prose, three pages long, about the problems with his forthcoming wedding. The others show little sympathy, but tease him instead. Much of this long scene is a struggle between Marc and Serge, sometimes playful, sometimes fierce, once becoming a physical fight; often interspersed with Yvan's ineffectual attempts to defuse the argument and make everything pleasant again. Several times Serge and Marc do unite to taunt Yvan, and at one point Marc's insults do drive him to leave, but he returns shortly after with another verbal outpouring.
Eventually, after Serge has goaded Marc to attack him physically (with Yvan once again interposing himself and getting hurt in the process) the tone becomes more serious, as Marc explains what his relationship with Serge has really been:
Serge is appalled to be told that this is what their relationship has really been, and declares ruefully "here we are at the end of a fifteen year friendship." Yvan offers an opinion and once again Serge and Marc round on him with their taunts, this time driving him to tears.
After Yvan's tears and yet another long speech, this one pathetic and self-pitying, the mood has changed significantly. Yvan is now ready to say what he has earlier strenuously denied, that the painting is 'a piece of white shit': he and Marc laugh uproariously.
Serge leaves the room and brings the Antrios back in. Then he demands a felt-tip marker from Yvan and tosses it to Marc, inviting him to draw on the painting. Marc does so, drawing a skier with a woolly hat.
The play ends with three solos: Yvan talking about his wedding, Marc and Serge's decision to rebuild their relationship with a 'trial period'; Serge admitting to the audience what he did not admit to Marc: that he knew the ink was washable; and Marc ending the play with a fanciful description of the white painting and its significance: poetic or ironic, the author leaves us (or the director) to decide.
The liberal American blogger Duncan Black took his pseudonym Atrios from the character Antrios.