With New Museums, a Once Disgraced Socialite Looks to Burnish His Legacy

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With New Museums, a Once Disgraced Socialite Looks to Burnish His Legacy
With New Museums, a Once Disgraced Socialite Looks to Burnish His Legacy

With New Museums, a As soon as Disgraced Socialite Seems to be to Burnish His Legacy

CUENCA, Spain — He was as soon as described by Vainness Truthful as “a Gatsby for the Reagan period,” however, till lately, life has been quieter for the Cuban-American artwork collector Roberto Polo.

Polo, a financier whose roller-coaster profession included a serious artwork fraud scandal that landed him in jail, has lately resurfaced in central Spain, the place final month he defied the coronavirus pandemic to inaugurate a museum within the medieval hilltop metropolis of Cuenca that’s dedicated to his assortment. His first artwork area opened in 2019, in Toledo, a metropolis that when hosted the Spanish courtroom of the Holy Roman Empire.

For Polo, the museums are an opportunity to ascertain a legacy and draw a line beneath his checkered previous.

Polo’s museums are each situated within the area of Castilla-La Mancha and stem from an settlement between the collector and the area’s authorities. In return for a 15-year mortgage of 445 gadgets from his assortment of contemporary and modern artwork, the authorities agreed to exhibit the works, insure them to a price of about $425 million, and supply a private residence for Polo in Toledo.

“Spain has a selected expertise to create public museums for personal collections,” Polo advised reporters throughout a museum presentation final month.

A big portrait of Polo stands on the entrance to the Toledo museum, and the explanatory panels summarize his life and achievements, from his beginning in Havana in 1951 by means of his finance profession, wherein he helped Citibank arrange a fine-arts funding division that the textual content calls “the primary of its sort within the historical past of the banking trade.”

However no reference is made to the shadier episodes in Polo’s previous. As soon as celebrated in the USA as a socialite and cultural patron, in 1988, Polo turned a fugitive from justice and the goal of a $130 million artwork fraud lawsuit. He was finally detained in Italy and spent 4 years in jail. Polo additionally divorced his Dominican spouse, Rosa Suro, who used to put on jewels that he collected, however whom he later accused of siding in opposition to him within the fraud case.

“My life is just not linear, that of a bourgeois,” Polo stated through the museum presentation. “This authorized story occurred 30 years in the past and I consider in the appropriate to overlook.”

Polo is now remarried to Michel Mora, a Frenchman who turned his assistant twenty years in the past. Whereas Polo’s settlement with the Spanish authorities was for a mortgage of the artworks, he stated that he anticipated Toledo to be his closing place of residency. “My intention is that these works is not going to go away Spain,” he stated.

Polo’s museums are run by a personal basis that receives an annual price range of two million euros, about $2.4 million, from the regional authorities. Earlier than transferring to Toledo, Polo spent a decade in Brussels, the place he had an artwork gallery, and Belgian artists account for 40 p.c of Polo’s Spanish assortment, in line with his basis’s director, Rafael Sierra.

However there are additionally works by well-known painters like Vasily Kandinsky, Max Ernst and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Within the Toledo museum, a hanging wooden and ivory sculpture faces a bay window that overlooks the Tagus, the river curling spherical the town. This work, “Grotesque III,” by the Bauhaus sculptor Oskar Schlemmer, can be essentially the most worthwhile merchandise in Polo’s Spanish assortment, insured for €30 million.

Polo stated his museums solely exhibited a tiny fraction of the 7,000 works he owns, most of which have been in storage.

In actual fact, his museum footprint in Spain might enhance. In October, the mayor of Alicante, in japanese Spain, prompt creating a 3rd residence for a few of Polo’s assortment.

Spain’s museums have bolstered the tourism trade, however their proliferation has included some setbacks. Taking instance from the profitable 1997 opening of a Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, a number of Spanish cities tried related tasks, a few of which have been by no means completed, or hardly used.

Some regional and metropolis governments have supplied the infrastructure however turned to non-public collectors to provide the works on present. A museum in Cáceres, in western Spain, opened in 2010, displays the gathering of Helga de Alvear, for instance; one other, in Málaga, within the nation’s south, focuses on Spanish work owned by Carmen Thyssen, the widow of Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, a baron whose personal assortment occupies certainly one of Madrid’s major museums.

In Toledo, Polo’s works are exhibited within the renovated convent of Santa Fé; the area spent €1.2 million in order that the constructing might accommodate the gathering. The Cuenca museum, in a former church, is considerably smaller, though the authorities specific hope that it’ll finally transfer to a bigger constructing. Cuenca already hosts an excellent museum of summary Spanish artwork, collected by Fernando Zóbel, a Filipino painter and businessman.

However not all people has shared the passion of legislators for utilizing public funds to showcase personal overseas collections.

“I’ve nothing in opposition to Mr. Polo,” stated Norberto Dotor, a retired gallerist who ran areas in Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha, “however I can not settle for and perceive how our legislators might current this as a present.”

“What we would have liked from our legislators was a regional artwork middle showcasing our personal cultural historical past and artists, relatively than spending taxpayers’ cash on serving to a personal assortment,” Dotor added.

Ángel Felpeto, who was the area’s tradition minister when the museum deal was signed with Polo, acknowledged that “some individuals felt that Toledo and Cuenca already had a lot to supply to guests and that having extra museums wouldn’t add loads.” However he argued that Polo’s assortment “stuffed an vital hole by way of European trendy and modern artwork, not just for our area, however for Spain as a complete.”

Regarding Polo’s previous troubles, Felpeto added: “His judicial issues have been lengthy over and what mattered to us was the valuation and traits of the works he might provide us.”

Regardless of managing to rebuild an artwork assortment after leaving jail, Polo stated that he had regained nothing just like the wealth that he as soon as boasted, and wouldn’t profit financially from the museums in Spain.

“I’m a horrible businessman,” he stated, with a wry smile.

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