Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

11 April 2013

Feeling charitable today? Maybe not. Perhaps you got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and are in one of those “frankly-I-don’t-care-and-in-fact the-world-owes-me-one” kind of moods. Or you may be one of those enviable individuals for whom generous acts are routine, ensuring lots of good causes benefit from your hard-earned. Maybe you even paid up when challenged by one of those quick-talking charity muggers who continue to lurk on many big-city streets.

Either way, there was a decent example yesterday of exactly how you should splash the cash if you are all about philanthropy. Step forward Leonard Lauder, scion of the Estée Lauder cosmetics dynasty, who has handed over more than $1bn (€764.3m) worth of Cubist masterpieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A quick scan over the donated works reveals a veritable checklist of modern masters from Pablo Picasso to Georges Braque to Fernand Léger. Of course the Met – like so many other great arts institutions – is heavily reliant on philanthropy to build its collections and maintain its existing displays. The line of notable donors stretches back to the likes of JP Morgan in the 19th century. But Lauder’s largesse must not be measured purely in terms of the nominal cash value. There is something undeniably tragic about the accumulation (and virtual concealment) of much wonderful art in the hands of a tiny minority of reclusive art collectors and – even worse – speculators.

Think of specific works that have dropped off the radar – Vincent van Gogh’s original “Portrait of Dr Gachet”, the best of Cézanne’s series “The Card Players”, Francis Bacon’s 1976 “Triptych”. If only they could all be on public display.

That is why I prefer the Lauder style. Acquire the works, enjoy them, but put them where the whole world has at least half a chance of seeing them.

It’s not just your JP Morgans, Leonard Lauders, and Henry Tates who have shown the way. In recent years, Canadian property mogul Bob Rennie created a museum in Vancouver to share his extraordinary collection. The controversial but never less than engaging professional gambler David Walsh constructed his Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, so he could share the wealth – literally and metaphorically.

There are benefactors by the dozen who are capable of seeing, if you’ll forgive the pun, the bigger picture. And they can ensure we all get a glimpse, too.

Tom Edwards is news editor for Monocle 24.

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