59. Two Famous Collector-Donors Whom I Didn't Like

59. Two Famous Collector-Donors Whom I Didn't Like

A. Written to attach to no. 56, "Dealers Who Don't Get Credit"
Addendum: Another "Not Getting Credit" essay could be written about collectors who, after years of employing their skills and funds to put together fine collections and conveying these to institutions as the Somebody Collection, watched with horror (even if posthumously) as their names were replaced by another, so that the objects now were credited to a "collector" who had simply bought the honor of having his name, instead of theirs, attached to objects he really had no part in acquiring. The worst example of this practice—which somehow should have been made illegal, to protect the good names of the original collectors and donors—was Arthur M. Sackler Jr., now long deceased, who spent huge amounts of money, acquired (I am told) by issuing a publication that advertised pharmaceuticals (one immediately suspects collusion with the predatory drug industry), giving money and objects to museums and universities with the condition that they or their holdings be renamed the "Arthur M. Sackler Jr." something-or-other, in place of original names and credit lines honoring the original donors. Examples include a great gallery of Buddhist sculpture at the Met, a collection of early Chinese bronzes at Princeton (put together by the real collector C. D. "Nick" Carter, whom I knew well, and who took justified pride in his collections—he could be the subject of another reminiscence), collections at Columbia U. and the Freer Gallery of Art in D.C. (an old and distinguished name now largely replaced in the public mind by the "Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.") And, perhaps saddest of all, the Asian art collections at Harvard, including groups of objects that had been called admiringly, for example, "the Winthrop jades" in honor of Grenville Winthrop, put together by connoisseurs of real discernment, who were properly credited in the original credit lines, now replaced with an overlong, pompous one featuring That Name. I avoid using it whenever possible, and pity colleagues who are confronted with it daily on their letterheads and object labels. Yes, the money benefited some of them greatly, but the terms attached to it were nonetheless dishonorable. And if someone points out that I write as someone who was never in a position to benefit from Sackler money—or who avoided positions in which he would have—I reply that that is true enough, but doesn't dilute the truth of what I write.

It will be pointed out also, probably by some Sackler beneficiary, that the man really did collect. Yes; he did; and in response to that point, let me relate how I first heard his name. Working with me at the Freer Gallery when I was a curator there in the late 1950s or early 60s was William Trousdale, another Loehr student and U. Michigan graduate, among whose areas of expertise was early Chinese jade carvings—he was intending to write a catalog of those in the Freer. He was "summoned away" for a few days to Philadelphia (if my memory serves) to view and evaluate the holdings of a new collector, Arthur M. Sackler Jr. He returned with a dazed look and a strange story. This man, he reported, collected for sheer numbers, with little regard for quality. He had compiled figures: how many early Chinese jades were known to exist above-ground at that time; what percentage of these he himself had already acquired; what percentage of the remainder were in secure public institutions, and so beyond his hope of acquiring; and, most importantly, how many were on the market or privately owned, and so, at least in principle, still available. Trousdale (who later moved to the Anthropology section of the Smithsonian) wanted nothing more to do with such a collector.

Later Sackler was famous for dangling his holdings and his money in the faces of great institutions, leading them to think they would be blessed with Sackler Collections, then shifting his benevolence elsewhere. For some time there was a "Sackler Enclave" within the storage space of the Far East Department at the Met, presided over by his curator; even Met curators needed her permission to get in—a situation unheard of in the history of great museums. The Met ended up with nothing, Columbia with much less than it had been led to hope for. Sackler was going to present the famous Changsha Manuscript to his newly-founded archaeological museum at Beida (Beijing University), so that it would, as Chinese had hoped and prayed, return to China; he never did. (Perhaps, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he simply died too soon.) These are only examples that I heard of, as preserved in my imperfect memory; someone else could write more fully and knowledgeably about the disappointments of some of the institutions that kowtowed to Sackler.

B. Addendum to no. 37, More on Avery Brundage.

This addition is based on new information about Avery Brundage's role as head of the International Olympics Committee in both 1936 and 1968. It comes from an article by Allen Barra on the editorial page of the NYTimes for August 23, 2008 (or possibly August 24: I tore it out without writing the date on it.) The article is titled "Fists Raised, but Not in Anger," and refers to the famous incident at the 1968 Olympics when two Afro-American track-and-field medal winners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their black-gloved fists as the U.S. anthem was played. They did it "to represent the flag with pride, but do it with a black accent." Smith later said "I wanted to embody my pride and love for what America is supposed to be. There was no hate, no hostility shown or intended." But it was understood by many, and reported in the media, as a hostile expression of black pride. Avery Brundage next morning told the American committee president "that if Smith and Carlos weren't removed from the team then the entire U. S. track and field team would be removed from the rest of competition." This is the same Avery Brundage who, when German athletes gave the Nazi salute as they were awarded their medals at the 1936 games, "made no objection, and rejected any proposals for boycotting the Berlin games." That Brundage was pro-Hitler I learned myself on seeing his library when i was at his Chicago hotel suite (as related in one of the above accounts). Barra's article begins by quoting the publicist for the 1968 games as saying "It was a story that should have made headlines for one day. If they had handled the whole affair right, with some reason, tolerance, and common sense, it would have been something we could now look back on with pride. Instead, it's the Olympics' biggest ongoing shame." Smith and Carlos have had trouble finding work afterwards; Carlos's wife committed suicide in the late 1970s. Both are still alive; both would be open to hearings that would right this wrong. And those who adulate Brundage should be aware of this side of his character, this stain on his reputation.

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