Here in the billionaires’ playground of Aspen, the politicians waived the zoning laws a few years ago for a monstrosity they call an art museum.
It’s a huge square wicker basket dominating a city block, with zero setback and zero architecture. This place that is supposed to display visual beauty is itself an eyesore.
Almost everyone hates it.
But not the director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. In an artistic burst, she created for herself a $900,000 salary. Her salary is about the only permanent or valuable piece in the collection. To put that number in perspective, it’s higher than the salaries paid to the directors of real museums like the Guggenheim and the Getty.
Even so, this director of the Aspen Art Museum has a bone to pick, now that she’s picked off the easy flesh. She’s grousing that budget-conscious legislators in Washington might reduce taxpayer funding for her shtick.
It’s not that there isn’t any money in Aspen to take up the slack. In perhaps the understatement of the year, I’ll say this about that: There is.
The director herself admits she doesn’t need the money. She recently told a local newspaper, “It’s less about the percentage of the budget and more about the philosophical stance that the city, state and federal government values art.”
You see, the money she receives is not about the money she receives. It’s about the “philosophical stance” of us peasants. More precisely, she wants us not in a stance, but in a bow. Like the Roman emperors, she demands money from afar not because she needs it, but as tribute.
I have news for our modern-day Caligula. The tribute she demands for this philosophical stance/bow comes from somewhere, and it’s not the government. The government is just the most recent stop. It really comes from American taxpayers.
I’ll venture another understatement: Most American taxpayers don’t live in Aspen. They live in places like Biloxi, Mississippi, Pittsburgh and Toledo, Ohio.
Those taxpayers use their money to buy food, utilities and shoes for their children to wear to markedly non-private schools. They can’t afford to spend their money on philosophical stances, and certainly not the philosophical stances of rich people in Aspen seeking to purchase a little (and I mean little) taste with other people’s money.
Maybe rich Aspenites posed in their philosophical stances would look better if they offered an artistic justification for taxpayer expenditures on Aspen art, rather than a philosophical one. But their type forfeited that opportunity years ago when they used taxpayer money to buy “Piss Christ.”
That was the name of a piece of “art” for which the taxpayers paid about $20,000 in the 1980s. It’s a big photograph of a plastic crucifixion immersed in urine.
The $20,000 came from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts.
I’m no art critic, but I know what I don’t like. I don’t like “Piss Christ.” And I don’t like my taxpayer money paying for it.
This isn’t about censorship, mind you. It’s about taxes. The “artist”who created “Piss Christ” has a right to create and display this kind of “art.” But he doesn’t have a right to make me pay for it with my tax dollars.
Besides, if this stuff is so great that it’s worth taxpayer dollars, then surely it’s so great that some self-anointed and self-deceived patron of the arts on the Upper East Side or in Beverly Hills will buy it. Just don’t ask the rest of us to.
Same in Aspen.
If the billionaires want to buy houses that span multiple ZIP codes, or hire an obscenely paid art bureaucrat to look after a non-collection in an illegally gross building, or purchase a self-congratulatory “philosophical stance” of themselves, that’s all fine. Just don’t ask the Toledo taxpayers to pay for it.
Wonderful piece! Excellent public policy issue. Top notch analysis. Master wordsmithing. Very funny.