Since museums are run by people, it should come as no surprise that competition exists for the patronage of the ultra rich among these institutions. At the moment, a war of sorts is going on between New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Until now, MOMA handled contemporary works and hip collections while, as one patron characterized the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “It’s sort of a crusty, snobby place.” (“Might at the Museum,” by Bob Colacello, Vanity Fair, 2/15 pg. 104) What tipped the balance and made the two institutions “frenemies” was a large gift by Leonard Lauder of the House of Lauder to the Met: $1 billon in 81 Cubist masterpieces. That gift doesn’t put the crusty, snobby museum in a position to challenge MOMA’s preeminence in modern art, but it allows the Met to get its nose under the tent. Besides, the new director, Thomas Campbell, is noted for his charm when dealing with the upper crust, while MOMA’s director, Glenn Lowry, “seems to elicit criticism and controversy at every turn.” (Ibid pg. 104). That difference doesn’t bode well for MOMA.
Fueling the unspoken war is the Met’s effort to acquire important parcels of land in the city where it can not only house its contemporary pieces but expand the collection. Tongues are wagging, of course, and sides being taken over which museum has the right to showcase modern art. Campbell and Lowery continue to insist the institutions have different missions. But, when it comes to wheedling money out of a finite number of billionaires, don’t bet on a lasting peace.
One can almost pity the filthy rich. They are the targets of so many worthy appeals, like those of the two museums. Outsiders don’t seem to realize that billionaires have worries, too. Take, for example, the harrowing task of raising a child. Consider the cost of a rich kid’s education. It involves more than learning the 3 Rs. Getting an off-spring into the right schools takes more than money. It takes influence to ensure that he or she can rub shoulders with the off-spring of kings and princes as well as the rag-tag gaggle of future billionaires. A year at Le Rosey, for example — an ultra exclusive boarding school in the Swiss Alps — costs $110,000 and that doesn’t include the $60,000 recommended for the child’s allowance. But can one put a price on meeting the issue of all the best people? Plus, as one former Rosey alum points out, there’s the added bonus that a graduate of one of these schools will “at the very least be an expert skier.” (“High Times,” by Catherine Ostler, Town&Country, 2/15, pg. 147.)
For the average person, it’s difficult to get into the mind of the super rich. No one but a billionaire can understand the torment of deciding what to do with all that money. “Shall I buy another Picasso? Or fund a new wing at the Metropolitan Museum? Shall I send my child to a Swiss school or hire an Olympic skier to tutor instead? Life is so much simpler for the poor. All they need worry about is where to find their next meal.