Lauder Shows Up Miami Developer Museum Deal: Lance Esplund

"Mademoiselle Pogany II" (1919) by Constantin Brancusi. The sculpture, made of veined marble on limestone and wood bases, is among the Modern works in the Ronald S. Lauder Collection. Source: Neue Galerie via Bloomberg

While a distracted art world picked over Art Basel Miami Beach, a real estate developer got the biggest bargain next door.

I mean Jorge M. Perez. For a mere $35 million gift in cash and art he got the Miami Art Museum to change its name to the Jorge M. Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County.

Perez, a museum trustee, shifted the focus away from art -- from what matters -- to himself, putting patron above artist, money above art.

If MAM, in order to bolster its endowment and finish construction of its new facility, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron and scheduled to open in 2013, must resort to selling itself, then the cost is too high.

Fellow MAM board trustees Mary E. Frank and Steven J. Guttman were right to have stepped down in protest.

Perez wants to leave a legacy, yet seeing his name in lights doesn’t have to be at the expense of extinguishing an institution’s shared sense of cultural community and ownership. Leave MAM to Miami. He should follow in the footsteps of Eli Broad and start his own museum.

Ronald S. Lauder

Or be inspired by Ronald S. Lauder, who just now celebrates the tenth anniversary of his opulent Neue Galerie on New York’s Upper East Side.

“The Ronald S. Lauder Collection: Selections from the 3rd Century B.C. to the 20th Century/Germany, Austria, and France” celebrates Lauder’s lifelong passion for collecting.

Lauder, an heir to the Estee Lauder fortune, mentions in the show’s catalog that he regards collecting art as “a kind of addiction.” He bought his first work, by Egon Schiele, with his bar mitzvah money.

While his childhood friends were at sporting events, Lauder was at the Museum of Modern Art, where an adolescent love affair, particularly with modern German and Austrian art (to which his museum is devoted), was born and continues to this day.

His primary interests are northern European, Modern. Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Georg Grosz, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Schiele and Kurt Schwitters find prominent place in his museum.

Among his seminal works is Klee’s “Gay Repast (Colorful Meal)” (1928-29), an abstract still life in which telephone cords double as tightropes.

Nice Cezanne

In 2006, the Neue’s purchase for $135 million (facilitated with a financial gift from Lauder) of Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer 1” (1907) made headlines; and the painting has permanent pride of place at the museum.

I find the work’s Byzantine artifice, like that in much of Klimt’s work, to be glitzy, decorative -- a false prize; and Schiele’s angst-ridden eroticism is about as sexy as beef jerky.

Despite my lack of interest in Viennese Expressionism, however, the “Lauder Collection” is a first-rate exhibition.

Expanses of real estate are devoted to jewelry and furniture, as well as masterworks by Brancusi, Van Gogh, Picasso and Seurat. There is much here for the Francophile.

Matisse’s four monumental, bronze “Back” reliefs are installed consecutively. And a wall of Cezannes, among them the phenomenal “Man With Crossed Arms” (c. 1899), is mounted above a commanding row of unusual helmets.

A large, 15th-century Flemish tapestry of woodcutters felling trees wows above Neue Galerie’s stairs. The show continues with masterpieces by Albrecht Altdorfer, Jan Gossaert (Mabuse) and Quentin Massys, along with collections of medieval ivories, stone carvings and metalwork, including inlaid reliquaries and superb examples of arms and armor.

Witch Hunt

The exhibition falls off considerably, however, in the last gallery, which is devoted to contemporary German art. Works by Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter signal that Lauder’s northern appetites would be better fed elsewhere.

Neue Galerie could be chalked up as something of a vanity project. Exhibitionism certainly should be added to addiction in the list of Lauder’s obsessions. His disorders are the public’s gains.

But nothing excuses the strange broadside launched recently against Lauder in a New York Times front-page story, which singled him out -- among all other billionaires and collectors -- for understanding, and engaging with, the U.S. tax codes.

At least Lauder puts art first. He opens to the public what is essentially his private collection, and the “Neue” refers not to the collector and benefactor but, rather, to the work inside the museum.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE