- A brief encounter understood years later.
In the early 1980s, while living in Los Angeles, a friend of mine and I had an
idea for a media project involving laser discs which were then cutting media
technology. The idea basically was to store art collections, specifically public
ones, on the disc with an accompanying narration, producing what would now be
a very primitive virtual tour of an art collection.
around for seed money, we were somehow directed to a businessman
named Arthur Gilbert who was said to have one of
the largest private collections of gold and silver in the
at Cheltenham College, 1928.
called and made an appointment. His office was in one of
the taller business buildings in Beverly Hills. On arrival
we could see that it was a very ordinary looking suite
of rooms, boxy, non-descript, devoid of a decorative eye
or any kind of charm; utilitarian. I was surprised only
because of a pre-conceived notion of what an office of
a great collector (of gold and silver no less),
would look like.
After a short wait, a non-descript (and Im sure quite utilitarian) secretary
let us into Mr. Gilberts office to meet the man. A large boxy room, painted
a very neutral pinkish tone, as I recall. A deep pile red carpet on the floor,
as I recall (although it may only be my memory accessorizing the atmosphere,
the vibe), there were several pieces of 18th-century furniture, with lots of
ormolu and highly lacquered surfaces. All of which looked very out of place
(or overdone) in this pedestrian LA/1960s interior.
I was reminded of years before when I visited the house of Gypsy Rose Lee,
who lived in a Spanish-style villa in the hills. Her boudoir (and it
could only be called that) was very lacey with highly polished black lacquered
furniture decorated with roses in mother-of-pearl inlay. It was a very high
(and witty) kitsch, which was the womans style. Mr. Arthur Gilberts
office had the same kind of kitsch to this eye. Without the style or the wit.
Mr. Gilbert himself was a good-looking white-haired man, of average stature,
with a light even tan and a stone-faced demeanor. Intimidating is the word.
I had no idea what his business was only that he was very rich.
So we told him about our revolutionary and innovative idea (which fifteen years
later would become universally matter-of-fact as CD-rom technology): His collection
would be set down for all who shared his passion for gold and silver, everywhere
Mr. Gilbert sat there very sternly listening. He never cracked a smile. When
we were through, he told us that he didnt see why people would want to
sit in front of a screen and look at a collection, but that nonetheless, he
would consult with Rusty Powell who was then the director of the Los
Angeles County Museum and had been already apprised of our idea.
Thank you very much; we bid Mr. Gilbert good-bye, leaving his office and walking
through the outer office to the door. Relieved to be leaving. In the outer
office we passed the secretary at her desk, and a man in shirt and tie, with
his back to us, looking through some papers. In a backward glance, just as
we were moving out the door, I noticed that the man was wearing a gun in
a holster around his waist.
of micromosaic picture of a tigress, after
a painting by Stubbs. Venice, 19th century.
Gilbert's favorite piece.
you see something like that, in that context (a business
office), the impression is immediately altered. The element
of fear seeps in. The intimidating, stone faced white haired
man behind the fancy desk. The gun in the outer office.
What it all meant, we were never to learn. Mr. Gilbert consulted with Mr. Powell,
who later went on to become the director of the National Gallery in Washington.
A few days later Mr. Gilbert sent us a letter stating that Mr. Powell didnt
see much future in that sort of technology, not, at least for museums, and
so therefore, Mr. Gilbert was not interested in pursuing the matter.
As it happened the matter eventually was shelved and replaced by
other endeavors. I never saw, nor heard of Mr. Gilbert again. Until last summer
when I noticed his obituary in the Daily Telegraph of London.
I should add that from that single meeting I was left with the memory of a
very cold man whose collection of gold and silver played into my imagination
in a Midas-like way. After reading his obituary, my impression was altered
by explanation, and Mr. Gilbert, with compassion, came within grasp.