Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Man’s private drama

Walking the Bridle Path in Central Park. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, April 12, 2016. A nice sunny day in New York with the temperature touching 60. In the afternoon the clouds came along and by early evening a soft rain moved in for about an hour leaving a rainbow behind over RFK Triboro Bridge.

Yesterday late morning I went down to the Morgan Library & Museum for their Annual Spring Luncheon. I’m not crazy about institutional luncheons because of the time element, especially if the day’s calendar is heavy with appointments or evening events. However, I’d been invited by Kathy Rayner who is an avid supporter of the Morgan, so I knew it would be at least interesting.
The tulips are out on the islands of Park Avenue and yesterday with the fair temperatures, they were flourishing.
I’ve been to the Morgan several times but always for some evening event/reception. Never to visit. The Morgan to me is the story of J. Pierpont Morgan who was an avid collector of antiquities, books, paintings, objets, sculpture and sundry treasures (including a life mask of George Washington made by Jean-Antoine Houdon at Mount Vernon in 1785). When Morgan died in 1913, leaving an estate about $68 million (or more than a billion in today’s currency), John D. Rockefeller Sr. was said to have remarked that he was surprised Mr. Morgan wasn’t as rich as he imagined him to be.
I knew why, of course, having long ago read Jean Strouse’s excellent biography of the man (“Morgan: American Financier” 1999, Random House). One thing that struck me about the book when I finished was that only a woman could have written so sensitively about a tough, fearsome, shrewd and powerful man. A significant key to his personality was his passionate collecting. As enormous as was the financial and political power he possessed, his collecting reflected both his majestic sense of wealth and self, but his sensitivity as well.

So going to the Morgan Library yesterday noontime, I was thinking about all this, and how I’d never really looked at the Library as anything more than an institution where I was attending a dinner or reception (and then hurrying off into the night and the keyboard).
The gallery of the Morgan, set for the annual lunch.
The musicians greeting the guests.
Along with with the waiters in their Andy wigs waiting with wines, champagnes and cocktails.
I happened to look up toward the ceiling at the buildings in the neighborhood (Madison Avenue and 36th Street), and this building had an odd looking tower compared to the rest of its architecture.
So I zoomed in with my camera to get a closer look only to realize that it was the tower of the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue two blocks south.
When I arrived, thinking I was going to be late since the invitation called for 11:30, I was one of the first. That gave me time to look around. As I entered the waitstaff holding trays of drinks were got up in those white wigs. The occasion was an amusing homage, highlighting the Morgan’s current exhibition, “Warhol By the Book” which runs through May 15th. It’s about Warhol’s early years as an artist and his relationship to books. He loved books (as did Mr. Morgan). From his late teenage years right to the untimely end of his life at 59, he loved books. It was a medium for him, an easel for his illustrative works. In his lifetime he contributed more than 80 projects for books.
Andy Warhol, Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1968.
This current exhibition is a retrospective dating from Warhol’s student days and his early years in New York before he became the Warhol whose name now identifies an actual museum. On display are items all the way back to the 1940s and through the '80s – screen prints, drawings, photographs, all kinds of books; and dust jackets from his illustrator days. In this exhibition, with a dominant sense of memorabilia, including a photograph of the very young man, probably still a student, with a full head of dark hair, and a delicately shrewd countenance taking in the camera’s lens. I could see the young man on the make, with ambition, and knowing exactly what he wanted. Keeping it simple. Everything that he became and that his work became is telegraphed throughout the exhibition.
In the Bottom of My Garden, ca. 1956
Illustration for Leroy the Mexican Jumping Bean, 1948–1949, Ink, tempera, and graphite on board.

Three More Novels of Ronald Firbank: Vainglory; Inclinations; Caprice
by Ronald Firbank, New York: New Directions, 1951.
Horoscopes for the Cocktail Hour, ca. 1961
Andy Warhol's Index (Book), New York: Random House; A Black Star book, 1967.
Marilyn, 1967

Love Is a Pink Cake,
ca. 1953. The Morgan Library & Museum, Purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund.
Flash - November 22, 1963, Briarcliff Manor, NY.
"So Sweet", 1950s
Then, with guests still arriving for the lunch, I took the time to  go into the original part of the Library that Mr. Morgan commissioned with Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White in 1902 or thereabouts. There are three main rooms off the entrance gallery. His library was enhanced for me by having read Jean Strouse’s book all those years ago.

This was clearly a quintessential expression of the man’s private drama. The grandeur of power, rich and impassioned, monarchic, lordly. Magnificence of antiquities, items of the universal. I thought of our contemporary financial tycoons with their vast billion-dollar incomes and luxury living possessions and purchasing, and how none it could compare to the power of this one room of this one man, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Colin Bailey, Director of the Morgan Library and Museum, greeting the guests after everyone was seated at table.
You get a feeling for the man’s sense of self, humbled perhaps by the masterpieces on canvas or in marble or in print that surrounded him. But in those surroundings, he was also an intimate companion of those masterpieces. There was knowledge everywhere, and genius now universal with which he was personally associated. There was value extending through the ages, far greater than anything a mere banker could create. Morgan was embraced by it. And so are you as you consider it all in our presence. He served it well.
Tables of 12 in Spring colors lit the room like Springtime ...
Two-fifteen, lunch, which was delicious, was over. I  walked over to Park Avenue and got a cab. On the way  we stopped for the light at 71st Street across from 740 Park Avenue.
740 Park Avenue on the northwest corner where there was a fire last week in the apartment of  financier Ezra Merkin. Mr. Merkin, also an art collector, once possessed the largest private collection of Mark Rothko in the world. They were sold during the Bernie Madoff scandal which affected many of Merkin’s clients.
This is considered one of the wealthiest apartment buildings in New York with several billionaire residents -- including David and Julia Koch, Christine and Steve Schwarzman, Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder -- where the most recent apartment sale was more than $70 million. Built in 1930 by James T. Lee, who was the maternal grandfather of Jacqueline Onassis and Lee Radziwill (the sisters grew up in this building), John D. Rockefeller Jr. occupied the top three floors of the penthouse which was later acquired by Saul Steinberg and then Stephen Schwarzman.

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