Value Creation

This week, a major event occurred in the more capitalist, elite art world as billionaire Leonard Lauder gave his cubist collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Museum has called this gift transformational in that it will not only fill an unmistakable gap in their modernist collection, but also brings some of cubism’s greatest masterpieces into the public eye. Due to this incredible gift, Lauder is being heralded as one of the most generous philanthropists of all time. Surely, no one could argue that his gift was not valuable and generous.

As I readied myself for our annual gala fundraiser at ICA earlier this week – coincidentally to honor Leonard Lauder – I continually tried to imagine this massive gift’s actual impact.  Is the impact worth $1billion simply because that is the value of the work? Certainly, it will increase some level of society’s humanity making it an undoubtedly philanthropic event, regardless of Lauder’s motivations for charitable giving. Yet, I sometimes struggle with the value of art when its impact is perhaps less vital or apparent.

How do we measure the impact of an art collection? Is the impact solely that it is available to the greater public and plays a valuable role in historical context? Does its monetary value make it significant on our lives by default? How can we measure a philanthropic gift of art by more than its monetary value?

Instead of trying to answer all of these questions and ruin this perfectly beautiful spring day with a mental drain, I have decided to think that the value is Lauder himself. In a society where the wealthiest individuals give less than half the percentage of their wealth to charity than the poorest individuals, a man who gives over ten percent of his total wealth philanthropically truly should be applauded.

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