A Gift That’s Not Wanted

15 11 2010

I love playing 7 degrees of separation.  It’s how I came to find a point for this post.  It took less than 7 steps, but things are going my way today, so there!

I get the Daily Heller which is an email from Steve Heller (the co-founder and the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts). It’s a message of consequence about art things. Today’s email was about a piece of modern art by Roy Lichtenstein that recently sold for $38 Million. The painting is called Ohhhh…Alright….and it’s basically a snapshot from the frame of an old comic book. The painting was owned by Steve Wynn (as in the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, and The Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and the Beau Rivage in Biloxi). He had it listed at an art dealer for $50 Million, so I’m sure he was pretty sad that he only got $38 Million for it.  The comic book sold for $0.10 in 1963 and the illustrators and colorist probably got pennies per frame for their work.

In the same article, Heller talks about another painting owned by Barney Ebsworth that sold for $23.8 Million. It was Warhol’s Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable). It had been estimated to bring between $30 and $50 million.  This economy is hurting everyone isn’t it? It turns out that Ebsworth was selling this Warhol to raise money to build a church!  That statement sent me on a path to learn more about this Ebsworth guy and this church.

Well it turns out that it’s not a church.  It a public meditative chapel, designed by a famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando.  It’s going to be built on Capital Hill in Seattle, WA. It will only seat 140 and have 75 parking spaces.  It will have a pipe organ and a 7 voice choir available… yes 7 voices.  Mr. Ebsworth is a very wealthy man.  According to Danny Westneat, Seattle Times staff columnist, “His dream, friends say, is to leave an artistic legacy in the form of a chapel to honor his family and be used by the public.” Image that. Image that you could sell a 48 year old painting of a can of soup and BAM!… an artistic legacy can be had.

Westnest goes on to report that Ebsworth (who doesn’t trust the press) has a friend who is a retired reverend named Gerry Porter. Porter says that the chapel is to be “an artistic gift to his adopted city.” A gift. Interesting.

The problem is that Ebsworth already tried to build the chapel in Bellevue, WA, but got turned away by the neighbors. It seems there is a storm brewing in the new neighborhood selection as well.

I feel for the guy.  I really do.  Have you ever tried to give someone a gift and had the Ohhhh…Alright…. reaction? It’s an okay idea, but it’s not really something that was on the wish list. Like when you were little and got socks for Christmas from your grandparents or crazy aunt (no Aunt Pasty, I’m not talking about you!).

I have to think that the gift to the city might have been packaged a bit wrong.  Oh… Did I tell you that the chapel design would include 6 burial sites and a memorial garden for Ebworth’s family? Oooohhh… now you understand why it’s not really something for the city.

How often do we do that? How often do we portray something as a gift or a favor in order to make it palatable for the public (or singular recipient)? I’m raising my hand here… because I’m selfish. I want to give my sons whatever I can for them to become rock stars and famous baseball players… So I can live vicariously through them and they can buy me a new house and a cool car. Or here’s a better one:  I want to give my wife a trip to the day spa and a quiet night out with just the two of us… so I can (use your imagination here).

You do it too. And so does the church at large.  This time of year it gets bad.  We’ll see signs saying “The 100th Annual Singing Christmas Tree, Our gift to the Metrocosium” Heck! I’ve written and designed ads like that! What it really means is that we want everyone to come see this show we’ve been working on since July that somehow will end with equating our work with the gift God has given us through His Son, Jesus.

That’s not the goal or the desire, but it’s how the neighbors see it.

The Bottom Line:  I think Mr. Ebsworth should have just bought the property and said it would be his family plot. Period.  After it was built, polished and shined up, he should search the obituaries and engagement announcements and quietly, anonymously and freely offer other families the use of the chapel in their time of sorrow and time of joy. Now THAT would be a gift to the neighbors!


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