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.


अर्जुन said...

D.A., are you hinting at something?

and speaking of art sales

Sotheby's current American Art auction features a number of Rockwell's and a couple of Parrish's. (all images may not be available after date of auction)

& at Coeur d’Alene Art Auction a N.C. Wyeth and a Rockwell.

PS I wonder if Jon Corzine collects art?

Donald Pittenger said...

David, David, David. You just aren't getting with the program: Love of art justifies anything ... doesn't it?

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन -- I don't know what you can possibly be inferring from my harmless little selection of porcine illustrations this week, but they were of course intended to be perfectly neutral. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

PS-- if you are in a position to scope out the Rockwells at Sotheby's, perhaps you hang out with some of the fine gentlemen mentioned in this post. No offense intended.

Donald Pittenger-- Well, that's what we were always told.... But perhaps it is not art that these people love?

lennardg said...

Art is the language of power.

Kalinides said...

These adorable, plumpyand inquisitive pigs shouldn't be part of this chronicle of swindlery. They should be in a article of their own. Farm animals never have the glamour, but Master found beauty in their charm...

Actually is more a chronicle of egomaniac consumerism at cost of shareholders... There's the billionaire Carlos Slim's collection he donated to the Mexican State... The curators are having a problem now, because the collection is a rummage of styles and tastes without any planned vision... Just a capricious fat pocket...

Anonymous said...



David Apatoff said...

Lennard Grahn wrote: "Art is the language of power."

I can agree with that perspective when it comes to the Medicis or Michelangelo. I'm sure the modern patrons of the arts like to see themselves that way too. But I suspect for many outside observers, today "art is the language of status."

Kalinides-- you're probably right, it is unfair to the literal pigs to associate them with such metaphorical pigs.

Anonymous-- And so it begins.

Paul Z. said...

Reading this makes me want to wash my hands like Lady Macbeth. Thank you for writing it, though. Now I see that it's called Fine Art because of the fines its collectors will incur when they are ultimately found out.

A profile of a young woman artist in today's New York Times Magazine quotes her complaining that the only reason a Louise Bourgeois today sells for $10M rather than $40M is that she's a woman. Rather than feel this situation is unfair to women artists, I think it's more than a bit insane that any art costs $40,000,000, or $10,000,000, for that matter. It is the case only because of the trading activities of gentlemen like those in your blog.

A trader friend of mine told a joke from work, in which a can of sardines was auctioned for more and more money over many years, because you could always rely on it to go up in value. Finally someone who made a huge windfall decided to celebrate by buying this extravagant can of sardines and serving it at a party he threw for himself. The sardines turned out to be rancid and rotten. He was beside himself; he'd spent a fortune for this repellant stuff. Nobody had any sympathy for him, though. They said he should have known that those weren't sardines for eating, they were sardines for trading. That's what art has become.

Or has it always been so? I don't really think so.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...


Here is a funny Getty quote,"Money isn't everything but it sure keeps you in touch with your children."

Max and Stacey are on topic.  Check it out.  If you don't want to watch the whole show skip ahead to the 5 minute mark. They give about six minutes of the show to the "modern art market.". An interesting perspective.


 Just a personal observation the Bernini scuplture looks stronger and stronger when I return to your Ecstacy post , the other works seem to lose something over time in comparison.

kev ferrara said...

Art is the language of power.


Art is the language of the imagination. Always has been and always will be. Power has nothing to do with it intrinsically.

Those who throw around millions of dollars at expertly hyped dreck rarely have much of an imagination except insofar as they can imagine the swelling of their investment portfolios and their reputations as "collectors of important art." If these folks were sensitive to quality art, they wouldn't be so susceptible to the machinations of the various culture vultures who constantly circle them.

Thus I offer a corrective:

Conspicuous acquisition is the language of power.

Nice to see Rockwells and Parrishes beating auction estimates. I wonder if this is due to Lucas beginning his Disney-money spree to flesh out his San Fran illustration museum.

David Apatoff said...

Paul Z-- Thanks for flagging that New York Times interview with Tracey Emin, which reads like a MAD Magazine parody. Emin is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

In addition to her delusions about the price of a Louise Bourgeois painting, I love her distinction between her early self portraits with her legs spread and her later self portraits with her legs spead: in the early pictures her legs were in the process of opening, while in the later pictures they were in the process of closing. Also hilarious was her description of the trouble she inadvertently caused with her artwork listing the 102 people she had slept with over 32 years. Emin helps remind us that the current pathology of the art patron / investor community is only one half of a symbiotic relationship.

Tom-- Thanks for the Max and Stacey clip, I watched the whole thing. I agree with you that the Bernini sculpture is the strongest piece in the collection of images about Ecstasy, but of course it is Bernini's masterpiece, years in the making, compared with lesser pieces by Gannam or Dorne, completed in a fraction of the time. I still think those Gannams are pretty darn good.

Kev Ferrara-- That's a very interesting theory on the market for Rockwells and Parrishes.Is there any news on the San Fran illustration museum? The last I heard, it was only a faint possibility.

As for the relationship of art and power, both terms are slippery rocks. There are pictures we could probably agree exude power, whether it is a muscular Frazetta painting depicting a moment of bone crunching impact, or a Franz Kline action painting demonstrating the physicality of a broad brush stroke. (I had an art teacher once who said that when Barnett Newman painted that one bold red stripe down a 20 foot canvas, "his balls must have weighed ten pounds apiece.")

At the opposite side of the spectrum, Thucydides certainly had a point when he wrote, "Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most." There is also power in the microsurgery that produces a tiny Faberge egg, or in the two or three essential brush strokes by a zen master.

I guess the generalization I feel most comfortable making is that the "power" demonstrated by these art collectors has nothing to do with artistic power.

These plutocrats have such great radar for detecting con men in business, it's kind of fun to see them all gullible and helpless, lying belly up at the mercy of art fraudsters.

lennardg said...

imagination is power, status is power. Beauty is power.
The power of creation, the power of the Gods.

kev ferrara said...

Big difference between a picture expressing or embodying power, and a picture being a kind of currency or marker of status for the powerful. Unless you want to argue that there is such a thing as "fascist aesthetics."

I had an art teacher once who said that when Barnett Newman painted that one bold red stripe down a 20 foot canvas, "his balls must have weighed ten pounds apiece."

This line about Newman's own is, on its face, laughable and sophomoric. Not to mention, largely nuts.

You think its hard throwing a big red stripe down a huge canvas when the stripe has no significance and represents nothing? Where is the risk? You make an error, oh well, you clean off the canvas and start again. Canvases can be cleaned right quick. Dean Cornwell recommended gasoline. Or the canvas can be primed back to white in no time.

This Barnett Newman thing is the remnant of indoctrination, hype and pseudo-intellectual pretention from the same era that legitimized performance artists like Tracey Emin. Its all of the same fabric of minimal artistry and maximal explanation/justification/obfuscation.

Just so happens I saw the Edwardian Opulence show at the Yale Center for British Art recently. In that show you can see paintings by Frank Brangwyn which clearly show incredible amounts of artistry, weeks of considered work, teeming with figures from reference and imagination, boats with grand billowing sails, grand pageantry, everything gorgeously drawn, the picture designed like visual music with incredible orchestration of values and colors and shapes, the totality a celebration of the depicted event, as well as of virtuosity itself and a joy of life that is worth its weight in gold. And the brushstrokes are put down in massive wads of pigment. Beautiful lush impasto... some a quarter of an inch thick, and every stroke describing something, drawing something, powerful yet sensitive to the slightest degree, meaning something, singing something. Just a stunning display of artistry from first sketch to last jot.

To put down stroke after stroke like that... where each glob of paint builds on the next, where each is a statement unto itself, a mass of commitment made manifest, and each can ruin a week of work that surrounds it... that's real artistic courage. Real cajones. Real talent. Real mastery.

High time to put out of your mind that art teacher's fannish hyping of Newman, David. It was fashionable once. It was cool. It seemed intellectual. You were a kid. But it was just big dumb graphic designs. That's all. And now its nostalgia. And currency kept "important" by collectors who will breath fire if their bubble-based assets suddenly become worth their actual intrinsic value.

Anonymous said...

Kev, just say "Modernism isn't my thing" and be done with it already. Newman and Cornwell were practitioners of two very different art forms that each came with their own bevy of issues, and throwing one under the bus with such seething hatred doesn't exactly validate your claim. This nonsense about 'art indoctrination' and calling someone's taste nuts is both rude and also paints you as the real pseudo-intellectual pedantic.

kev ferrara said...


Assuming you are the same Anon from recent prior threads:

Your tradition of anti-intellectualism, which includes the eradication of distinctions between meaning and nonsense, quality and junk, metaphysical truth and mere fashion, entertainment and art, personal aesthetic feeling and cultural immersion, aesthetics and style, earned reputation and hype, (etc.) is, in large measure, the cultural problem I am trying to redress.

Thus, it is a complete waste of time to offer your "advice" to me on hownot to discuss these matters. As it is exactly your advice, which is a product of your indoctrination, that I am trying to challenge in the first place.

kev ferrara said...

This nonsense about 'art indoctrination' and calling someone's taste nuts is both rude and also paints you as the real pseudo-intellectual pedantic.

Your reading comprehension is off, as usual. The crit of that line as "largely nuts" is about the claim of David's teacher. Not David's taste for Newman's work.

I am challenging David to reconcile his appreciation of Brangwyn with his appreciation for Newman. I have laid out a case. Live with it.

Also, I guess I have to explain to you that the line was a joke...

his balls must have weighed ten pounds apiece = largely nuts.

And, I guess I also have to explain, seeing as you fly off the handle into emotion-ville so easily, that I harbor no "seething hatred" towards Newman's work. Time and time again you assign me emotions I don't have. I think you can't distinguish between honest intellectual criticism and hatred/rage.

It is boring responding to your accusations. If you want to be a part of the discussion make your case for the work you like. Don't immediately jump to ad homs and hysterics in place of actual discussion.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "High time to put out of your mind that art teacher's fannish hyping of Newman, David. It was fashionable once. It was cool. It seemed intellectual. You were a kid. But it was just big dumb graphic designs. That's all."

Kev, a lot of what I do around here is try to identify the elements that really matter, and focus on those. That usually means asserting that we shouldn't be distracted by the fact that a picture is printed in a cheap magazine, or commissioned by a laundry detergent manufacturer, or aimed primarily at children-- we should focus on the genuine qualities of the picture which might be just as good, or better, than the pictures hanging in the marble palaces of fine art.

Anyone with the arrogance to undertake such a mission (a mission which I think many participants here share)has a special obligation to be as honest and objective in searching for genuine value in contemporary fine arts as well as in illustration. That means we shouldn't be distracted by the fact that fine art patrons are often swine who pay ridiculous prices for the wrong reasons, or that its dealers and critics are often laughable, or that the second or third generation of such artists have degenerated into uncomprehending children. If there is inherent value in a picture, we should pride ourselves in being able to find it despite all the layers of propaganda and salesmanship and pretension.

Me, I think there is genuine value in some of this "fine" art, including art by Barnett Newman. I think that many of the questions these artists posed were brave, important questions, posed against overwhelming odds-- they were the necessary and logical extension of an ontological and epistemological trail that goes back to Descartes and earlier. I think your reaction is too quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater. For me, it is not sufficient to write off Newman because he led to a silly ninny like Tracey Emin; judging demands more patience and curiosity than that.

Newman is not my favorite artist, or even my favorite abstract expressionist, by any stretch of the imagination (although there is an absolutely beautiful Newman currently on display at MOMA, entitled "The Voice.") My point about Newman and power was that there are a million wrong ways to paint a bold stripe on a 20 foot canvas but only a few very right ways(as proven by the fact that many of Newman's canvases miss). And if you can get that exactly right-- color contrast, width, tetured edge, whatever-- it can be a very empowering thing. It is also empowering to physically apply the paint in that fashion. There is (if you will excuse an obsolete term) a certain virility to the non-cognitivism of making such a mark. Without weighing Newman's testicles, I think that's what my art teacher meant.

kev ferrara said...

I hardly think it is arrogant of us to have our own opinions about art. It is far more arrogant to try to control culture as the modernists and postmoderists have successfully done in the realm of painting. and visual art.

That our minds are at liberty to discern quality for themselves is, to me, merely the baseline for a minimally tolerable cultural life..

I can't agree that there are a million wrong ways to paint a bold stripe on a 20 foot canvas. There are no wrong ways to do any act that need not signify or have utility. Any more than there are wrong ways to toss a pebble into a pond. One throw impresses you, one doesn't. One goes ploop. One goes plop. One skips. One goes plink in the shallows Each effort is a sensation just as significant as the others.

This is the real crux of the matter -- and the very reason why Newman and Emin are working the same side of the street -- they both partake of the idea of art as mere sensation. Art as something that need not signify. This "freedom" is the proverbial taking down of the tennis net.

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David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree it is not arrogant to "have opinions about art"-- opinions seem as natural and unpretentious to me as breathing. It's only when we start to promulgate our opinions to the public, as if the public might benefit from our opinion (or even worse, as if we are qualified to pass judgment for a larger audience) that we are in risk of becoming presumptuous. Someone who goes down that path owes their audience an additional filter, I think. (Every blog should pass the "WAIT" test: "Why Am I Talking?")

The comedian Steve Martin, a major collector of modern art, was asked for his views on art and replied: "Art is a private thing, it's noncompetitive and the subject is so full of bullshit you're pretty much guaranteed to sound like an idiot.... The more you talk, the less is said...[I]t's part greed, part ownership, part how beautiful the paintings are-- but that's bullshit too." I find his response kind of endearing. Most of all, I take guidance from the admonition of Seneca: "If you would judge, investigate."

In the case of Newman, I agree that he has taken down the proverbial tennis nets, but that doesn't mean that all behavior on the tennis court becomes "just as significant as the others." It seems to me that there are ways of acting on the tennis court that totally violate the rules of tennis but that are still more interesting or stirring or exciting than other ways of behaving. You seem unable to forgive Newman for invading your tennis court with a different set of rules, so you conclude anything he does must be worthless. I think Seneca would ask more of us: that if we are going to judge him, we should at least investigate. Are you sure you've given his rules a chance? Don't you already approve of some art forms "that need not signify"? (For example, music?) And your criticism of Newman as "mere sensation" brings to mind a paraphrase of Al Dorne: "There's nothing all that fucking mere about sensation."

Anonymous said...

Dear David Apatoff,just saw a comment you wrote about Sir Gerald Kelly 'chickening out of display a topless portrait of his wife' i'd be interested to hear about this and whatever else you know about either of them but more so his wife as she was my Dads Great Aunt.My email is debsey67@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Dear David Apatoff,just saw a comment you wrote about Sir Gerald Kelly 'chickening out of display a topless portrait of his wife' i'd be interested to hear about this and whatever else you know about either of them but more so his wife as she was my Dads Great Aunt.My email is debsey67@gmail.com