Trying to Launch the Warhol Museum
When Ms. X and I arrived at GAM in London, Gilbert didn’t meet with us in his private office, where he and I had always met in the past. Instead, apparently in honor of Ms. X’s presence, he ushered us into his conference room.
“We just finished rebuilding the conference room,” Gilbert told us proudly. “It’s the most high-tech, state-of-the-art conference room in all of London!”
It was certainly, as far as I could tell, the largest in London—in case, I suppose, the House of Commons stopped by for a chat.
Gilbert seated himself at the head of the table and Ms. X and I sat across from each other, just around the corners of the table from Gilbert. If I’d been Joe Namath I could have thrown a football far enough to reach her.
In front of Gilbert was a console complicated enough to have taken a rocket ship to Mars. Gilbert rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation and said, “I’m a little new at this, but watch what this baby can do!”
After staring at the buttons and dials and levers with great concentration for a long moment, Gilbert reached out and pressed a button. We all jumped as very large panels began moving on the walls, blocking the windows and turning the room pitch black.
“Oops!” Gilbert said. “Wrong button!” He pushed another button in the darkness and somewhere down at the far end of the room a screen unrolled from the ceiling, though it was too dark to see it.
“Damn!” he said, and tried a dial. Again something happened at the far end of the room—it turned out to be part of the conference room table dividing into two tables, although we could see nothing at all.
“Well, hell,” Gilbert said. “Stay where you are and I’ll go for help!” He moved ghost-like through the darkness in the general direction of the conference room door, fished around until he found the knob, and opened it. Soon he was back with his secretary, who actually knew how to operate the console.
While the secretary was demonstrating the many wonders of Gilbert’s high-tech conference room, it occurred to me that maybe I should be ready to take a few notes. Gilbert might have questions about the new museum and we might need to get back to him. I had a pen in my suit coat pocket, but nothing to write on.
In the middle of the huge conference table—that is, about a block and a half from where I was sitting—was a lovely lacquered box inside of which was everything a conference room could need: pens, pencils, stapler, paperclips, tablets, rubber bands (or, as Gilbert would say, “elastic” bands). I hiked down there and reached for a tablet.
Except it wasn’t a tablet, it was some sort of hard acrylic thing. I glanced back at Gilbert, who was grinning delightedly back at me. “Art installation,” he explained. I returned blushingly to my seat, vowing to do nothing else stupid for at least a few hours.
But barely 20 minutes later, while Ms. X was seated at the console trying her hand at the controls, I found myself inspecting the electronic stock ticker that ran around the conference room walls, just below the ceiling. You usually see them at brokerage offices or in Times Square.
“I like your stock ticker,” I said to Gilbert, “but you don’t use the same symbols we use in the States.”
Gilbert burst out laughing and Ms. X rolled her eyes, looking mortified. “It’s supposed to look like a stock ticker,” Gilbert said to me. “But actually it’s installation art designed by the famous artist, Jenny Holzer.”
Other than that, the meeting was going swimmingly. Ms. X was a charming and persuasive woman, and she and Gilbert had obviously hit it off. But then the meeting went off the rails.
Gilbert had asked who else had already committed to serving on the board. Ms. X, instead of simply giving him the names, launched into a rambling spiel about the various roles in the new museum played by the Dia Art Foundation, the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Carnegie Institute.
“You see,” she finally concluded, “for a period of years there is one board that will oversee the construction and initial operation of the museum, and then after that there will be another board that operates the museum on a more permanent basis—an operating committee.” Seeing that Gilbert was now thoroughly confused, she added, “Wait, I have an org chart here somewhere.”
While Ms. X shuffled through her papers looking for the org chart, Gilbert glanced at me and raised an anxious eyebrow. Since I had no idea what Ms. X was talking about, I merely shrugged.
“Here you go!” said Ms. X, pushing a diagram across the table to Gilbert. “This is the permanent org chart.”
I stood up and looked over Gilbert’s shoulder. The diagram showed the Carnegie Institute at the top of the page, then four museums below it: the Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science, and the Warhol.
Gilbert studied the chart for several minutes, then said, “Excuse me, Ms. X, are you telling me that the Warhol board, or operating committee, or whatever it’s called, actually reports up to the Carnegie Institute? It’s not an independent board?”
Poor Ms. X, flummoxed for once in her life, did her best to save the day, but the day was hopelessly lost. Ever the gentleman, Gilbert thanked Ms. X profusely for traveling to London and for thinking of him for the museum board, and told her he would think about her offer and get back to her promptly.
But Ms. X knew when she was being blown off, and so she and I walked back to the Inn on the Park Hotel and got roaring drunk, which turned out to be the best part of the trip.