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FEET OF CLAY
by Charlie Finch
 
When did the rich get the idea that a large amount of money could create a masterpiece?

Ronald Lauder’s ostentatious purchase of Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), which he described as "Our Mona Lisa" (funny, we always thought it was Barnett Newman’s Onement) shows how low the wealthy have sunk in their desire to shape and control the wispy waves of taste and time.

Almost half a century ago, another wealthy New York patron of the arts, A+P heir Huntington Hartford, was roundly mocked for opening a vanity museum on Columbus Circle. But when Lauder and the late Serge Sabarsky debuted their equally kitschy Neue Galerie across from the Metropolitan Museum a few years back, they were greeted with polite applause.

The rich are usually better off anticipating the future than trying to reorder the past. Hence, the lowball buying of some Warhol soup cans or Matisse nudes when nobody else is looking is preferable to ridiculing the cultural world with $135 million.

Adele, like its multiple-millions partner, Picasso’s Garçon à la pipe is simply a bad painting, full of awkward drawing, clashing colors and dubious sentimentality. It should be shown, all alone, in Lauder’s private boudoir, surrounded by shelves of the overpriced goop that made its purchase possible.

And, to channel Freud for a moment (after all, aren’t we in Vienna?), one thinks of Lauder’s hard-working mother Evelyn, mixing her facial potions over a hot Queens stove 75 years ago and wonders if Ron looks into Adele’s not-so-beautiful face and sees his mother’s eyes.

For the old, hackneyed lesson here is that the best, most enduring, yet elusive things cannot be bought, and that masterpieces come to and from the mind, not money.

The current art world is so saturated with cash chasing work, that any chance of a masterpiece has been suffocated. Indeed, the Banks Violette generation spits on the very idea. Hence, the dead hand of dough props up some very moribund art.

Propping up kitsch in a mound of money doesn’t help. It’s time for Ron Lauder to leave the world of art alone.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).