Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oil Money

In the past, wealthy American industrialists collected art to prove their own cultural standing in relation to the older European aristocracy. As John Dewey commented in 1934, “Generally speaking, the typical collector is the typical capitalist. For evidence of good standing in the realm of higher culture, he amasses painting, statuary, and artistic bijoux, as his stocks and bonds certify to his standing in the economic world”.

J. Paul Getty’s 1976 autobiography As I See It rather painfully reveals his obsession with art of European royal palaces. His tales of collecting are in each case accounts of how much he spent. A biographer notes that many people who aided Getty in his collecting felt he really wanted things he considered bargains: “He would study the X-rays of a painting to determine its origin but reject it if the cost per square inch seemed too high”.

Getty’s Villa Museum in Malibu is modeled after a patrician Roman’s pleasure palace in Herculaneum on the Bay of Naples. He even remarked, “I feel no qualms or reticence about likening the Getty Oil Company to an Empire--and myself to a Caesar”. Getty, like earlier philanthropists, spoke of improving the masses: “Twentieth-century barbarians cannot be transformed into cultured, civilized human beings until they acquire an appreciation and love for art”. But his autobiography does not mention the tax shelter advantages of his museum and foundation, which were hardly negligible."

Victor Dubreuil - Money to Burn (1893)

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