All in all, it’s probably a good thing that the Whitney Museum is slogging along with its plans to build a gorgeous new museum downtown on Washington and Gansevoort Streets. What is troubling is that while the Whitney is receiving a 50 percent reduction in the cost of the land from New York City and nine years of various options to complete paying for the land and to actually build on the site, Whitney Museum czar Adam Weinberg is still allowed the privilege of NOT telling the press how much in capital funds the Whitney has raised so far for the $680-million project, and NOT disclosing the details of any plans to sell the museum’s flagship Marcel Breuer space on Madison Avenue. (Last year, the man who really runs the Whitney, Leonard Lauder, gave the museum a gift of $133 million and stipulated that the Whitney could not sell the Breuer building for an unspecified time.)
Gee, when you sit down with your bank to renegotiate your mortgage, do you have the option to withhold information at will? And yet New York City thumbs its nose at its taxpayers by allowing an elite nonprofit institution to basically dictate what it can and cannot tell you about its expansion plans.
You know, there is a rottenness among our elites that would make the Emperor Nero blush with envy. They give lip service to "green shoots" and President Obama and the wonders of liberal culture, while never removing their hands from our wallets and then massaging our brains with our own compliance and ignorance.
Last week, the New York Times published a devastating report on megacollector Thomas H. Lee -- a Whitney Museum trustee -- and his manipulation of debt and equity in the Simmons Mattress company, which virtually destroyed the company’s basic business of giving people a good night’s sleep, while extracting $76 million here and $130 million there from Simmons for Lee’s buyout firm. As Michael Kinsley once wrote about Washington influence peddling, "the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, it’s what’s legal."
Where is the art-world outcry against Thomas Lee for stripping the bedding from a perfectly serviceable company? Is there a liberal demand from artists and writers to refuse to sell to Lee or to ban him from the next rockin’ fundraiser at the Whitney? What a joke: Adam Weinberg is probably getting a thrill up his leg right now wondering how much of Lee’s perfectly legal profits he can extract to pay for a museum whose funding he won’t disclose while he is ripping off your tax dollars to pay for its construction so you can fork over $20 in 2020 (make that $50 by then) to see the Whitney’s not-that-great permanent collection.
The political and cultural elites didn’t get the message a year ago, either from the economic crash or the election of Barack Obama. They are still preserving their privileges and luxurified behavior at a deep, ruinous cost to the rest of us. What is to be done?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).