Tuesday, May 21, 2013



Ronald Searle

Oil mogul Armand Hammer amassed a large collection of paintings by famous artists.  He then decided to build a $70 million museum to house his collection. The Armand Hammer Museum would be a grand monument to Hammer and his taste. 

Some were startled to learn that despite his personal fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, Hammer expected the shareholders of the  Occidental Petroleum Company to pay for his museum.  But when shareholders sued to block Hammer from using company funds, they were even more startled to discover that he had already spent millions of dollars of shareholder money to buy art for his personal collection.  Those millions of dollars were taken from the retirement funds of teachers, waiters and shop clerks to buy more art for Hammer.

C. F. Payne

Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco International, acquired a personal fortune of approximately $600 million.  Before he was convicted for plundering money from his company, he set out to acquire a major art collection (Monet, Renoir, etc.) with the assistance of a Palm beach art consultant.  Kozlowski apparently became a fan of Michelangelo in the process because he commissioned an ice sculpture of Michelangelo's David that urinated Stolichnaya vodka into the crystal glasses of guests who he flew to his wife's $2 million birthday party on the island of Sardinia

During Kozlowski's last major art purchase, he falsified the paperwork to avoid paying tax on $14 million worth of art, and ended up being indicted for tax evasion.

Ronald Searle
Robert Fawcett
 Richard Fuld, former CEO of the investment firm Lehman Brothers, led his company into the treacherous subprime loan market.  They made billions by scooping up toxic debt and passing it off on clueless investors who trusted Lehman. This played a major role in triggering the recent global financial meltdown and wrecking countless lives. Fuld himself pocketed half a billion dollars before Lehman Brothers finally went bankrupt.

Why did Fuld need that much money so badly?  What made it all worthwhile?  For one thing, Fuld was able to acquire a major art collection worth tens of millions of dollars, including works by abstract expressionists such as de Kooning.  Bonus: his wife got to sit on the board of the Museum of Modern Art.

Garth Williams

A recent report on the intrinsic benefits of the arts found that the arts are responsible for
growth in individual capacities—such as enhanced empathy for other people and cultures, powers of observation, and understanding of the world—that can occur through cumulative arts experiences.  These intrinsic effects enrich individual lives, but they also have a public spillover component in that they cultivate the kinds of citizens desired in a pluralistic society.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The Museum of Modern Art in NY is currently exhibiting a collection of envelopes which constitute a work of art by Alighiero Boetti,  perhaps the most prominent Italian conceptual artist of the 20th century. Wikipedia describes this important piece:
Dossier Postale (1969–70) consists of a series of letters which were sent to 26 well-known recipients, primarily artists, art critics, dealers, and collectors active at the time. Boetti sent the envelopes to imaginary addresses, thus each letter was returned to the artist undelivered, demonstrating Boetti’s preoccupation with improbability and chance.
The envelopes, complete with colored stamps and stray markings from the postal service, make an interesting assortment of lines and colors:

Marcel Duchamp had been dead for a year when Boetti mailed him this letter

Talented illustrator Bill Mayer also has a marvelous collection of decorated envelopes.  He has not, to my knowledge, exhibited them at the Museum of Modern Art, but you can see them on line.

It turns out that Mayer decorated nearly 100 envelopes containing letters to his wife, Lee.  I am a big fan of Mayer's work, and I really enjoy these envelopes.

If we compare Mayer's envelopes to Boetti's on a level playing field,  I find Mayer's visually stronger. 


Nevertheless, there are two important differences that qualify Boetti's envelopes for an honored place as "fine art" at MOMA:

  1. Mayer's images are an act of genuine communication with another human being, while Boetti's onanistic epistles are never meant to be received or read.  They have fake addresses designed to return Boetti's letters to him, as part of an intellectual game he plays with himself.
  2.  Mayer's images are a purposeful act of skill, while Boetti relies instead on random marks by anonymous postal service employees to create his images, almost as if the postal bureaucracy is an extension of his brush.
Wikipedia asserts that Boetti's envelopes illuminate the concepts of "improbability and chance." I enjoy his envelopes, although I'd be hard pressed to find any insights on improbability and chance beyond basic platitudes.  On the other hand, if MOMA ever develops an interest in concepts such as love, playfulness, enthusiasm and imagination, perhaps they'll knock on Mayer's door.