Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Who Is Peter Brant?

This week, watching our new favorite show "Mad Men," we were struck by when Bertram Cooper said, "people buy things to realize their aspirations, but between you and me that (Rothko) should double in value." Cooper, the mogul, made me wonder: Is this Peter Brant?

Clearly the mysterious Peter Brant loves Art, or rather Beauty (check out the collector's astonishingly beautiful wife) more than making money. But he loves making money too; he is not the typical aesthete. And on Charlie Rose, Brant made a forceful and compelling argument that one of the problems of Artists -- but not Andy Warhol -- was that they are entirely naive about the importance of making money (check!). Art, Brant seems to be saying, had to evolve into Business; Art had to get a business-instinct to survive. The Artists that do will continue and write the History, and the Artists that don't will be entirely superfluous. Brant has a point ...

Brant has a point up to a point. But loving Beauty and loving High Art are two different things entirely. T: Times Magazine profile of Peter Brant titled "The Trophy Hunter":

"At the 53-acre Greenwich, Conn., estate that Peter Brant shares with his wife, the supermodel Stephanie Seymour Brant, and their children, a crew of gardeners on a hill crest was inserting tens of thousands of annual flowering plants into the stocky flanks and adorably snub snout of one of the most recognizable sculptures of our time: Jeff Koons’s 'Puppy,' a 40-foot-tall Westie that is shaped from living blooms. Every spring, the reinstallation of 'Puppy' requires 10 men to labor for 12 days. Somehow 'Puppy' seems emblematic of Brant’s lifetime engagement as a collector. Many wealthy businessmen collect contemporary art, but for Brant, merely buying the work can feel insufficient. If possible, he wants to put some more work into it.

"From my subsequent vantage point on the portico of the Brants’ Mount Vernonstyle house (designed by the leading classical architect Allan Greenberg, whose clients include Tommy Hilfiger and the investment banker Paul Tudor Jones II ), and looking toward the ornamental stone wall, which is flanked by two 18th-century sphinx sculptures, and to the large, tranquil pond beyond, I found my thoughts drifting to another palatial home. Granted, I had never seen this home, but it was located more or less due south on the other side of Long Island Sound. That was the West Egg residence of Jay Gatsby (né Gatz), the protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel 'The Great Gatsby' — who is arguably the fictional archetype of the aristocratic self-made American man. Like Gatsby, Brant has accumulated a fortune in an unglamorous business and converted the cash into a luxuriously comme il faut lifestyle. Both men early demonstrated a connoisseur’s eye for beauty in, among other categories, houses and clothing. Both could claim to be courteous, amiable and nice-looking."

That's all charming and bucolic (The Corsair sips a 1995 Bouchard Père et Fils Gevrey-Chambertin). And we are somewhat sympathetic to that Gatsbyish portrait lovingly rendered by the author. And Brant has done, we cannot fail to note, wonderful things with Interview (although it is shameful that the magazine has no blog or presence online). But then we wonder about this thing with some really questionable Contemporary Art and whether or not Brant is in that game simply to be the best -- or at least hugely competitive -- in an arena he can afford and already has papers of recommendation, or if it ios because he truly loves Beauty:

"Brant says his own father was a cultivated man, who was born on the Bulgarian-Romanian border and spoke 13 languages. In this country, he started a paper business that, under his son, has expanded unrecognizably. Their styles of art collecting are also very different. The elder Brant liked French rococo and English landscapes, but not everything he bought was what he believed it to be. 'My dad had pictures he thought were Old Masters and they were actually ‘school of’ or 'in the style of,' Brant says.

"Brant recognized early the advantages of collecting contemporary art — and not only for authentication purposes. When he was 16, the Zurich art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, whom he knew from Christmas skiing holidays in Switzerland, advised him to forget about buying French Impressionists. 'He said, The best ones are in museums or else they’re too expensive — but you’re living in New York, you should go see Leo Castelli,' Brant says. He converted readily to late-20th-century art. The first painting he bought in New York was a Franz Kline. 'I just loved contemporary art,' he says. 'You would watch Playboy After Dark and there was a great Kline over the bar. It was not just the intellectual, it was also the lifestyle side of it.' He was hooked."

-- He could compete?

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