Billionaire art collectors lack virtue, intelligence and judgment | laura cumming

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AAnyone who still associates the ownership of art with the possession of virtue must have woken up from their whimsical trance last week. Collectors have shown their true colors. Multi-billion dollar financier Steven Cohen was blasted across America for his involvement in the notorious GameStop stock shorting on Thursday. Teaming up with a former protégé, he led the battle for the hedge fund elites against ordinary investors – a dirty big Goliath trying to oppress every Davids on Reddit.

When Cohen went to cry on Twitter – “I don’t feel the love on this site today” – fans of the New York Mets, which he owns, mocked his greed with a virtuoso array of sports metaphors . If only the art world was so fast. Cohen’s most famous purchases, before the Mets, were Jeff Koons’ bunny, Damien Hirst’s shark, and an Andy Warhol Mao – essential football cards in any boy’s Wall Street collection. Of course, Cohen said Fortune magazine that he personally knew what he liked.

Earlier this week, billionaire Leon Black resigned from Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm he founded, following an investigation into his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Black paid Epstein $ 158 million over five years; for what, exactly? it is requested.

Black’s art collection includes $ 120 million pastel The Scream, generously on loan to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York for a six-month grace (and an excellent reputation). He also funded a new wing for the museum, of which he is the president. Yet despite a lifetime of knowledge of silver and art (two decades on the board of directors of the Metropolitan Museum in New York), it appears from the investigation that Black needed the help. of Epstein for “the structuring of artistic entities”. A new euphemism has surely been invented.

Being a major collector doesn’t even seem to involve intelligence, let alone judgment. The Museum of the Bible, founded in Washington by Steve Green, was forced last week to return more than 5,000 disputed objects to Egypt. These include statues and funeral masks all put together since the anti-Mubarak uprising in 2011. Confusing, isn’t it, how they came up for sale in all this chaos?

Will boredom take off?

No one is coming, no one is going and I’m still procrastinating. A broken handle on a vital drawer has been on my list since the start of the pandemic. The decorations, barely hung on Christmas Eve, are still waiting to be returned to the attic. I owe everyone I love a phone call, but when the workday is over and home schooling is over, I’m speechless, stuck and stuck. This paralysis is shameful, and hopefully temporary, but I can’t even get out and read the counters. Whereupon a scarlet balloon arrives via email from the utility provider, rewarded with kudos for a year of utter neglect. I love their spirit and that can be motivating. But not yet.

Heroes of the school register

On the other hand, I can’t say enough good things about the teachers whose calm, clear, calm, and often humorous voices come out of my teenage computers every day. The teachers – and all their colleagues, from teaching assistants, principals and SEN staff to caterers, administrators, cleaners, bus, train and metro drivers who risk their lives to educate our offspring – are heroic. Simply filling out the register online takes supernatural patience. I hear them reading the names in this Grand Canyon from which no answer comes back, continuing to try to inspire students who may be tired, depressed, anxious, embarrassed, distracted, overwhelmed. And yet, they do it daily: teachers in all their morning glory.

Laura Cumming is the art critic of The Observer


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