“I just LOVE your collection,” I gushed, “Absolutely incredible. How long have you been collecting?”
My host looked puzzled…
Lemme backtrack a bit: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with art, but it’s rarely played nicely with my other obsession, technology. Since technology pays the bills, art has almost always taken a back seat.
I treasure the rare moments when they’ve combined, as in computer animation, or the heady time I was asked to join a tech corporation’s selection committee for buying “positional” art (which, as it turned out, was because they wanted me to write nice things about their products, not because they really wanted my artistic opinion).
Still, as a “decision-maker” for a deep-pocketed art buyer, I was given the VIP treatment by Manhattan galleries that formerly couldn’t be bothered to unlock the door. It was fun, gave me a chance to see art I couldn’t have seen otherwise, and taught me all about decorator sushi and designer liqueurs. It also gave me a lifelong disdain for black silk turtlenecks and art that makes “meaningful statements” at a quarter-mill a pop, but that’s another story.
My favorite art/tech moment, though, was about 15 years ago in Atlanta, during a massive high-tech expo. The CEO of one participating company owned a mansion on a former plantation outside Atlanta; his PR firm staged a black tie “buh-buh-kew” in his backyard and invited the editorial brass.
It was formal in the true southern sense: Limos picked us up at our hotels, a smiling servant plied us with champagne and caviar on the long drive out and never, ever discussed business. The party favors, which my magazine’s rules didn’t allow me to keep, included a Coach briefcase. (BTW, NEVER wear a long velvet skirt in a stretch limo. It will catch on the velour carpet and be dragged down to your ankles, which entertains your fellow editors but isn’t particularly dignified.)
We were met by evening-gowned beauties (I used to call them booth bunnies) with syrupy southern accents and lots of cleavage.* They led us through the mansion and around to the back yard, which had a pool house bigger than a Costco, great food and music, and more booth bunnies.
It was a wonderful party that I saw very little of, because I was standing, jaw-dropped, in the round front hall. That mansion was crammed with more glass art than the Corning Museum.
I stood under a huge Chihuly chandelier, glinting ice-white, blue and purple. Niches surrounded me, filled with sinuous shapes from Tagliapietra, Morris, Royal, Marioni.
It was far too modern for an antebellum mansion, but who the heck cared? I absorbed it, whispered the names lovingly, strained NOT to run my fingers across the silky battuto. I moved into the parlor, where Tiffany lamps cast soft light on pate de verre women and trinket boxes. Lalique. Galle. Argy-Rousseau. An Henri Cros relief panel took center stage on one wall; an enormous Tiffany wisteria window, carefully backlit, filled another.
I took it all in, oblivious to the booth bunny trying to move me into the backyard. She finally gave up and fetched a PR exec, who instantly caught on. “Beautiful, isn’t it? XXXX (the CEO) is a great collector, and he renovated this house around his collection. Would you like a tour?”
The glass was displayed more or less chronologically. The library and office concentrated on ancient glass weapons, vessels and beads; a Libensky/Brychtova casting dominated the exercise room. Daily in the kitchen, Brock in the bedroom. Chihuly and Tiffany all over the place.
I spent two hours in there, up close and personal with some of the most wonderful glass I’ve ever seen. When the PR exec finally dragged me out to the party, I made straight for the CEO and gushed, getting the puzzled look I mentioned earlier. Undaunted, I tried again.
“How long have you been collecting pate de verre?” I asked, “It’s not something you see every day, and you’ve got some really wonderful pieces.”
The CEO looked at me as if I was a bit demented. Or stupid. “Pot of what?” he asked, “What are you talking about?”
“The art. All over your house,” I said impatiently, “You know, like the Chihuly chandelier in the entry.”
“Oh, you mean the glass,” he said, “Honey, the decorator picks out that crap and sticks it on the wall. I just sign the checks.”
“But,” he added generously, “I’m glad you like it.”
*It’s a continual source of wonder, given the number of women and gays in high tech, that somebody doesn’t wise up and also supply these affairs with muscle-bound, great-butted men.
Addendum: Like many tech giants, that particular company rested a tad too long on its laurels, missed the next great innovation and went down for the count. A couple of years after this party it sold for a bargain-basement price to a company that only wanted its patents. The CEO in question golden-parachuted out of the mess, but lost much of his winnings in a nasty divorce over one too many booth bunnies (or so I heard). I’ve no idea if he still has a glass-filled mansion but I doubt it.