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Ron and Leonard


by Charlie Finch
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David Kocienewski's artful takedown of Ronald S. Lauder's tax avoidance strategies on the front page of Sunday's New York Times has to be one of the more strangely timed pieces of investigative reporting in that publication’s history.

For starters, Estée Lauder and Clinique and all the other Lauder goop subsidiaries are among the Times’ most lucrative advertisers, and, even with an improved bottom line at the paper, which enabled it to pay off its loan early to the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, endangering this cosmetic revenue stream seems suicidal at best.

Secondly, the recent death of Ron's sister-in-law, Evelyn Lauder, whose "pink ribbon" battle against breast cancer is referenced in Kocienewski's piece, might mean that the appearance of said report when Mrs. Lauder's estate is up for probate could endanger various tax advantages of the Lauder family at a vulnerable time.

But to ascertain, perhaps, what is really going on, one must go back to the book of Genesis, specifically to the tale of Cain and Abel. There has always been a presumptive sense of art-collecting museo-competition between the czar of MoMA, Ron, and the head of the inferior Whitney Museum, Leonard. Ron has always won this battle convincingly, in spite of the fact that he has been (as copiously detailed in the Times article) a dilettante, while older brother Leonard has run the family business.

Additionally, Leonard's deceased bride Evelyn was a major hands-on executive and new product innovator in the Lauder cream stream. So let's look deeper into the Times' expose. First, Ron's position as CEO of Clinique is characterized as a sinecure and his business skills, relative to the company, as nonexistent.

Elements of Ron's checkered career, especially his short and troubled stint as Ronald Reagan's Ambassador to Vienna and his multimillion-dollar run for NYC mayor, are elucidated. And who do you think the Lauder relatives were who lent all their company stock to Ronald for tax avoidance purposes? The Leonard Lauder family.

To conclude, dear readers, who would be the only source kosher enough to green light the Times expose of Ronald Lauder's tax strategies, while keeping the paper's relationship with Estée Lauder safe and enjoying a little fraternal revenge under a cloud of personal grief? Leonard Lauder, of course!

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