When LI lived in Santa Fe, we attended a number of parties organized by an art dealer. Actually, in Santa Fe, it is almost impossible to avoid parties organized by an art dealer of some type. You will be walking along, innocently enough, and suddenly you will be engulfed by rich Texas couples and amply funded California divorcees clamoring for a "purplish" picture to hang in the solarium. It is that kind of town.
These parties had a debilitating effect on my morale. I had hung with the wealthy before; I'd read Architectural Digest in their bathrooms; I'd talked to their almost always ancient maids, although I can't say I talked to them much. The maids eyed me with justified suspicion. No matter - I liked em. In my experience, wealth had had a gentle, softening effect upon people -- like some purling current of water, gradually brightening and shaping a bed of pebbles.
That was my feeling until I encountered the the crowds that gathered, like some species of vulture even the Audobon Society couldn't love, to drink white wine and eat Southwestern canapes in the rooms of this art dealer. They were a whole other order of philistine.
I was reminded of the type by this story about the Barnes Institute.
The Barnes has always stuck out because it was founded by a wealthy screwball. One of the things about art is that it demands a response. One of the things about money is that it doesn't. It is a contradiction that makes the true artist grit his or her teeth, when encountering the true client.
Not so for the founder of the Barnes, about which the Times article has this rather unhelpful bio:
"The collection was amassed by Albert C. Barnes, a patent-medicine millionaire who installed it in the 1920's on his estate in the Main Line suburb of Merion."
Barnes (unlike the vultures) not only amassed his collection, he formed definite opinions about it. Opinions that were not about its potential exchange value. He wrote pamphlets. He sought out intellectuals who had similar beliefs. And he decided to reveal his collection only to those who were able to see it in the right way -- as if, indeed, he'd done the work himself.
Since Albert's time, the foundation has had a pretty colorful career. LI saw an exhibit of some of the Barnes pieces years ago -- we remember being struck particularly by the Soutines. That exhibit was a rarity. Now the Barnes board is trying to find to build a museum to house the pieces, which means significantly re-structuring Albert's explicit instructions -- Albert was not a man who wanted the hoi polloi to wash up before his pictures. The board contracted for an audit, and it is being published today. The audit says a lot about a former president of the institute, Richard Glanton. Glanton is not amused.
"Mr. Glanton, 56, a former partner at the law firm of Reed Smith Shaw & McClay, was forced off the Barnes board in 1998 and left Philadelphia in May to become a senior vice president at the Exelon Corporation, a utilities conglomerate in Chicago. Under a section titled "Conflicts of Interest," the audit outlined a series of Barnes transactions that it said Mr. Glanton engaged in with outside business partners, without informing the foundation's board. It said he ran up more than $225,000 in travel and entertainment expenses; tried to barter the foundation's banking business for support on the board; and let two women live in Barnes properties under unusual circumstances.
Mr. Glanton dismissed the findings today as "a waste of money" and an act of "vengeance" by his enemies."
The Times is our last Victorian institution. The two women living under "unusual circumstances" -- unusual for what? The implication is that Mr. Glanton is, as well as being a man of the arts, a man of parts -- un homme moyen sensual -- and those parts needed some action from time to time.
"In another episode the audit cited, a woman working for a party and event planner, Cheryl Beck, said Mr. Glanton had arranged for her to move into a vacant Barnes-owned single-family residence in Merion around November 1996. There was no agreement to pay rent or utilities and Ms. Beck, who moved in with a roommate, Theresa Sentel, called the arrangement "like house sitting." Neighbors later complained of parties there."
The art world, man. Wyndham Lewis, who was voted the most perceptive fascist of 1926, was on to its unique seediness in The Art of Being Ruled. Like almost everything by Lewis, it is one of those proofs that genius can go out of its way to be unpleasant -- the reason Lewis never wrote a great novel. There's an old Guardian review of a bio of Lewis's life by David Trotter wonderfully sums up his problems:
"If having sex with Lewis seems to have been a thankless task, then lending him money was about as much fun as amputation. Sometimes the same person was required to fulfil both functions. Ida Vendel, the mistress acquired as a lifestyle accessory in Paris in April 1905, he thought of as his 'German allotment'. Ida's father had been a wealthy merchant, and Lewis was soon, and thereafter almost as a matter of policy, in debt to her. Indeed, the difficulty he found in extricating himself from the relationship had as much to do with its monetary as with its sexual arrangements, and he didn't really feel free of it until his mother had paid Ida what he owed her. Its termination, in the summer of 1907, meant that he now required alternative sources of revenue, as his friends and relations were soon to discover. "He's a cool card with other people's money," Augustus John complained in January 1908: "I don't know how much of mine he's calmly appropriated, without so much as a 'thank you'."
"The one thing even less likely to meet with gratitude than a loan was an outright gift. At the end of 1923, a group of well-wishers established a joint fund to provide Lewis with a stipend of �16 a month for as long as he might remain in need of it. The result was the usual mayhem, as dark suspicions flourished, and lifelong friends fell out. On one occasion, a delay in the dispatch of the monthly cheque elicited an unforgiving response: "WHERE'S THE FUCKING STIPEND? LEWIS." O'Keeffe dismisses this story as apocryphal, but he does not seem in much doubt as to the brutality with which Lewis often treated those who sought to help him. Earlier that year, Lewis had spent some time in France with one of the people who was to contribute generously to the fund, the painter Richard Wyndham. Sitting outside a caf� in Toulon, he told Wyndham that he was a 'Narcissus' and probably a 'bugger'. People, Wyndham remembered him saying, are only friends insofar as they are of use to you. Lewis, it seems, did not so much bite the hand that fed him as mistake it for the main meal."
Lewis -- to resume after that enjoyable hiatus -- had this to say about such as Glanton: "In the millionaire society defined in Part III [of Art of Being Ruled] those fortunate enough to possess the means were shown as enjoying the revolutionary joys of a communist millenium. They are naturally impatient of the slowness of revolution. They consequently decide to forestall the paradise to come, on a small scale, themselves. A painting, writing, acting, cultural paradise ensues, in which everyone is equal (that is, equally a 'genius') and every one is free -- at the expense, naturally, of the great majority, who have to wait for their revolutionary paradise."