Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Please Don't Step on That Pollack Over There

Kingz, 2010

True story.

A young man started his career as a cook. He worked his way up to become a chef. Along the way, he attracted the attention of a well-heeled diner who pledged to be his financial backer if he ever decided to open his own place. A few years later they collaborated to do just that. The restaurant did well. But the chef learned that he liked cooking more than he did worrying about the front end of the business. They sold the restaurant after a year.

A few years later the chef’s interest turned to real estate development. He found a small, depressed city in the northeast full of empty historic and architecturally noteworthy buildings ripe for redevelopment. With the financier’s support, the chef-turned-developer bought up lots of buildings. Some he converted to condos and co-ops. Some he’s just holding on to, waiting for the right moment.

One landmark building he bought with the specific intention of converting it into a museum for the financier’s art collection. If things went right, it would become a destination that would draw people to the city, create a little economic activity and increase the value of their other real estate holdings.

When I first heard about this, I envisioned some kind of vanity collection; maybe one noteworthy piece surrounded by a lot of lesser work. But the friend telling me the story assured me the financier has a destination-worthy collection. Plans for creating the art museum, however, have stalled for reasons unknown. The landmark building sits empty.

When I asked my friend how he knew all this, he explained that the building he and his wife live in is one of the redevelopment projects of the chef-turned-developer. It’s a former factory building in a very dodgy neighborhood. As we stood in the parking lot the other night after dinner—and I’ll verify here that it’s a neighborhood where you don’t want to stand out in the parking lot too long after dark—he explained that he knew all about this because the financier’s art collection is stashed just a few feet away from where we stood in that very building.

He pointed to a nondescript entrance to the building. “Were you to get inside that door, and past the next door behind it,” he says, “you’d find a world-class collection of Twentieth Century American art.”

In that dodgy neighborhood in that depressed little city, in a climate-controlled and fireproof storage unit rests a vast collection of Pollacks, Lichtensteins, Rothkos, de Koonings, Newmans, Klines, Motherwells and others. All are securely crated with only Polaroid pictures on the outside to identify the contents, all waiting for the right moment to be revealed.

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