A Tale of Two Decisions

Ample discussion has been had over the past several years about the vast income disparities that are present in the United States, and I’m not going to get into differing opinions on how best to address the issue – other to say that it is an issue. If you don’t believe it is an issue you are willfully ignoring the facts.

I happened to read about two decisions that were made this weekend that really hit home in terms of how folks in the 1% choose to spend their vast sums of money. Some pay it forward. Others pay for rabbits.

Paying It forward at Morehouse College

On one side, you have Mr. Robert F. Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners who was the Class of 2019’s commencement speaker at Morehouse College. During that speech, he announced that he would cover all the student debt for every person graduating that day.

So the cynic in me will think that there has to be a catch or there is some way that Mr. Smith will come out financially ahead on this deal – through the PR or some debt to equity play – but that is irrelevant. The bottom line is that he is fundamentally changing the lives of every person in that graduating class by covering their student debt and getting them off on the right foot as they enter ‘real life’. It was estimated that the total bill would come to $40 Million. For a man of Mr. Smith’s means, that is a rounding error. This is an amazing gesture and I sincerely hope that it starts some sort of trend.

And then on the other side of the aisle, you have Mr. Robert Mnuchin – yes, Steve’s Daddy – who dropped $91 Million on a metal rabbit designed by Jeff Koons.

Silver Bunny Is Expensive

A shiny stainless steel sculpture created by Jeff Koons in 1986, inspired by a child’s inflatable toy, sold at Christie’s on Wednesday night for $91.1 million with fees, breaking the record at auction for a work by a living artist, set just last November by David Hockney. Robert E. Mnuchin, an art dealer and the father of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, made the winning bid for Mr. Koons’s 1986 “Rabbit” from an aisle seat near the front of the sales room. 

NY Times

When put side by side, the optics of that rabbit purchase just looks so frivolous. Actually, looking at that purchase alone makes it look frivolous. Imagine if the elder Mr. Mnuchin took that $91 Mil and helped out some other graduating class? Or put that pocket money to some other use to help people. Something to think about.

How to Move A Masterpiece

For 135 years, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “La Jeunesse de Bacchus” has essentially been in the same place, his former studio in the 6th Arrondissement in Paris. Over that time, it had been moved a total of three times for some exhibitions. Now, it has two more moves ahead of it as it is going up for auction at Sotheby’s in NYC. The first was to move it from Paris to the NYC auction house. And after that, it will need to be moved again to its new owner. The issue is that the artwork is 20 feet wide by 11 feet high, and one does not just pick up that sized piece of art off the wall – worth an estimated $25 – $35 Million dollars – and put it in the cargo hold on a plane to NYC.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “La Jeunesse de Bacchus” 

Moving this master work the 3,625 miles from Paris to NYC is no small feat, requiring many skilled people with unique knowledge in art curation and conservation.

Over all, the job required around 20 people between the two locations, including a crane operator to get it out of the third-floor studio window and into a truck.

One of the conservators involved in the New York unpacking and restretching, Haley Parkes, called the whole process a “Bouguer-rodeo.”

NY Times

What was interesting about this story was how the curators were able to skillfully remove this massive piece of work from its original frame and then roll it up on a massive cylindrical drum, all without materially damaging the artwork. The article notes that one of the reasons they were able to do this was because the artist used a very light amount of paint to craft the painting, which means that 135 years on, the paint was thin enough on the canvas that it would not crack when it got rolled up.

Image Credit: NY Times (at above link)

For comparison, imagine if a piece of work by Van Gogh was the same size and needed to be transferred to NYC. Van Gogh was known to use notoriously heavy amounts of paint in his works, and the prospect of rolling up one of his works would run the risk of severe damage to the aesthetic of the original piece.

The piece is available for viewing at Sotheby’s and is also featured on their website.

I’m Batman

A rare and high quality copy of Detective Comics #27 was sold at auction for $1,075,000. The record setting auction price came just three days after an original Superman comic sold for $1 Million.

Both Detective Comics #27 and Action Comics #1 were originally published by National Allied Publications, a company that later became Detective Comics and then DC Comics.

With all the recent movies about comic book characters, I’m sure that there will be more rare comics being auctioned off. Interestingly, according to the article, items like rare comic books have seen strong price increases during the recent recession while other more “common” auctioned items did not see equivalent pricing growth.