Serge and Yvan are together in Serge’s flat. The painting is not on the wall. Yvan asks Serge how he’s been, and Serge says nothing is new, though he’s glad to see Yvan, who never calls. Yvan remarks that Serge’s apartment looks sparse and monastic. Serge laughs, and agrees. Serge then asks if Yvan has seen Marc lately—Yvan lies, and says he hasn’t. Serge volunteers that he saw Marc a few days ago. Yvan asks if Marc is all right, and Serge replies that he is—more or less. Yvan asks if Serge has been out at all and seen any interesting films or art. Serge replies that he cannot afford to go out—he is “ruined.” Yvan feigns intrigue. Serge offers to show Yvan something special—he leaves the room and returns with the Antrios, which he sets down in front of Yvan. Yvan considers the painting—he really likes it.
Serge and Yvan are also shown to have a genial and intimate relationship, though before Yvan has even seen the painting, it has already begun to affect their relationship, too. By lying to Serge about having not seen Marc recently—and by coming to Serge’s flat with an alternate agenda in mind—there is already the rift of a small lie between them. When Yvan sees the painting, however, he finds that his allegiance lies with Serge after all—he appreciates the Antrios and doesn’t understand what all Marc’s fussing was about.
Serge explains that it is a piece from the 1970s, and though the artist is going through a “similar phase” now, the painting is a vintage one. He asks if Yvan likes it. Yvan says that he does. They both remark on how the painting is plain but nonetheless magnetic. Yvan asks about the price. Serge replies that it cost him two hundred thousand francs. Yvan replies that the price is “very reasonable.” After a moment of silence, Serge bursts out laughing and then so does Yvan. Serge remarks on how “crazy” it was of him to spend two hundred grand. They laugh back and forth for several minutes before calming down.
Marc and Yvan’s respective visits with Serge and the Antrios go very differently. Yvan feels a magnetic pull toward the painting, and appreciates it as an aesthetic object, whereas Marc did not. Because Yvan appreciates the painting, he is willing to entertain the idea that it was worth its exorbitant price. It is only because he and Serge find themselves on equal footing in this that Serge is able to willfully admit that the price of the painting was insane, and perhaps he himself was insane to purchase it. Serge does not feel judged by Yvan, though he did feel judged by Marc, and this rendered any conversation about the painting impossible between the two of them.
Serge tells Yvan conspiratorially that Marc has seen the painting, and was “devastated” by it. He reveals that Marc described the painting as “shit.” Yvan argues that Marc’s taste is “classical,” and it makes sense that he wouldn’t understand the painting at all. Serge complains that Marc had no sense of humor at all about the painting—with Yvan, Serge feels comfortable laughing, but around Marc he is a “block of ice.” Yvan agrees that Marc has seemed gloomy lately.
This passage shows that there is more troubling Marc and Serge’s relationship than just the acquisition of the Antrios. There is something wrong in Marc and Serge’s codependent friendship that prevents them from having a sense of humor around one another—everything is a standoff, a competition, a battle. With the genial, agreeable Yvan—with whom Serge is less competitive and prideful—things are easier.
Serge tells Yvan that he doesn’t blame Marc for not reacting well to the painting—Marc has not gone through the “apprenticeship” one needs to understand and become sensitive to modern art—but that he felt hurt by Marc’s condescension and contempt. Serge warns Yvan not to try to smooth things over between him and Marc, and then asks Yvan to concede that Marc is “atrophying.” Yvan is silent.
Serge surely knows about the artless painting hanging on Yvan’s wall, and so his description of Marc as uneducated in the realm of modern art to another of his uneducated friends belies Serge’s pretentious nature. Serge, in this passage, attempts to turn Yvan against Marc by pointing out how Marc has declined—just as Marc attempted to regarding Serge in the previous scene. As Yvan realizes that his friends are using him to battle one another, he reflects silently on what has become of their friendships with one another.