artful banker

David Rockefeller’s buying program at the Chase Manhattan Bank made it the greatest corporate patron of art, and started the game of corporate art collecting. It was the thing to do if you were a big blue chip American businessman and wanted to show how progressive you were. Rockefeller surrounded himself with a committee of connosieurs unparalleled on the planet that included Alfred H. Barr, Dorothy Miller of MOMA, Robert Beverly Hale, James Johnson Sweeney, Perry Rathbone, Gordon Bunshaft. In short the murderers row lineup of the 1927 Yankees.

The $510,700 budgeted for art in 1959 was considered cosmic at the time, enough for deceased grandfather John D. to make a quadruple bogey when he heard it. The last time a Rockefeller had touched public art was the infamous Diego Rivera mural and the Mexican went and ruined it by sticking a picture of Lenin in the middle. But this was different, it was about a practical lock on the modern art market.

At the end of the 1950′s the Chase Manhattan’s art program blazed no new trail. Scores of corporations had been investing heavily in contemporary art, much of it abstract. But the Chase Manhattan purchases dwarfed all the others, at least financially. And the guiding spirit of the program was vice-chairman David Rockefeller.

Walter Murch. Carburetor. Murch was well known for still lifes, much in contrast to the dominant abstract style of the time. Image:

Whence this patronage of the prudent bankers? Hardly rash or controversial. It is good business. Earlier, in 1954, the Manufactuers Trust moved into new quarters and hung it with modern paintings, including a Klee and Miro and the number of accounts and profits rose substantially because of the art cachet. As Jean Cocteau observed tartly at the time, the conformism anti-conformist is in style, the avant-gard has become the classicism of the twentieth-century.

( see link at end)…Donald Kuspit:I will suggest that the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market is about the breeding of money, not the fertility of art, and that commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder’s monkeys of money. They exist to increase the generative value and staying power of money — the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself — not the value and staying power of art….

---Rothko, Cy Twombly, Picasso, Robert Kaupelis and even Alexandra Nechita share similarities that academics and collectors advocate – the ability to connect with a work visually. Rothko’s White Center stood in David Rockefeller’s collection at the insistence of Peggy Guggenheim. She advised a traditional art collector at the time to reach beyond the hunt scenes----Read More:

…Money supposedly has no value in itself, that is, it is valuable for what one can exchange it for, but I will suggest the surge of art buying is money’s parthenogenetic way of saying that it is valuable in itself, indeed, value distilled to purity, the quintessence of value in capitalist society.

Many years ago Meyer Schapiro argued that there was a radical difference between art’s spiritual value and its commercial value. He warned against the nihilistic effect of collapsing their difference. I will argue that today, in the public mind, and perhaps in the unconscious of many artists, there is no difference. The commercial value of art has usurped its spiritual value, indeed, seems to determine it. Art’s esthetic, cognitive, emotional and moral value — its value for the dialectical varieties of critical consciousness — has been subsumed by the value of money. Read More:

---André Derain (French, 1880-1954), Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1905-06, Oil on canvas. 32-1/8 x 39-5/8", The Museum of Modern Art, Fractional gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller, © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP,

s.--- Read More:

What Rockefeller would do is pick paintings, have it appraised later at a higher price, give it to a museum, declare the capital gain and use the profit to buy another painting to take the place of the first one. This drew other buyers in which helped keep prices rising.


He walks with slight difficulty, and shows us around, making scholarly comments about the collection of Modern art installed in all the rooms of his office: Picasso, Manet, Gauguin, de Kooning, Rothko, Botero.

Officially retired, he remains very active as honorary chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, founded by his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

He grew up in the largest private house in New York, where he was born. He was the youngest of the six children of John D. Rockefeller Jr., eldest son of John D. Rockefeller, and today he is the patriarch of the third generation.

Parallel to his career as a banker with Chase Manhattan and as an unofficial diplomat, he became a real expert in the art that he collects, spanning early Impressionism to the European and American classics and antiquities from all civilizations. Read More:

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