In 1972 there was a large commercial space available in the Parke-Bernet Building on 77th Street and Madison Avenue in New York. So I called the owner of the space and made an appointment with the man in charge of leasing it. I had my attorney and my brother meet with this man for breakfast. We were planning to open an art gallery.
We inaugurated the gallery with an exhibition by Hundertwasser and it was very successful. I organized a number of exhibits there over the years, including exhibitions of sculpture by Salvador Dali, and works by Sonia Delaunay. The gallery was going pretty well but it was not something that made a great deal of money. In 1972, after we had opened it, we became well-known for having unusual shows.
The art business had other revenue streams too. My bank called me one day and asked if I'd have lunch with a man overseeing private banking. I told my brother and he declined to come, saying we didn't owe the bank anything. At lunch, the banker and I ran out of things to talk about after half an hour; at that point, the banker asked me what the institution could do to get more business from us. I said that if the bank would give us an unsecured loan for 10-15 million dollars, we could do a great deal of business. I didn't think we would get the loan, but a few days later the banker called and said we had it.
I really didn't know what to do with the money. But the next day, I was perusing the newspaper and read that a brand new gallery called Kent was having an exhibition of Henry Moore works. I went to the gallery, which was in the Fuller Building, asked for the prices, and got an idea. I knew that all the sculptures came from the Henry Moore Foundation and that a businessman named George Ablah from Kansas had previously bought many pieces from the Marlborough Gallery. The sculpture curator, Mr. Wallace, flew with Mr. Ablah to the Henry Moore Foundation in England and selected the pieces. Some of them went to Mr. Ablah's warehouse in Kansas, and the rest went to the Kent Gallery in New York, where Mr. Wallace was Ablah's partner by then.
The idea that I had after seeing the Moore exhibit at Kent was to propose a business deal to Jacob Weintraub and his wife, who were in London attending a Sotheby's auction. I flew to London that evening and went to the auction. Afterwards, I asked Mr. Weintraub if we could talk. He, his wife, and I went to Claridge's. I knew his wife in New York: she had lived at the Beresford and was quite wealthy. Her first husband, a furrier, had left her $8 million. I explained to them that I wanted to buy the best pieces in the Moore show at the Kent Gallery on a fifty-fifty basis. They agreed to be partners with me. I told them to call the Gallery and buy the art over the telephone; Mrs. Weintraub did so. We later sold the pieces easily to Japanese dealers because the yen was very high.
Then came another development in our favor. Mr. Ablah got into financial difficulties and had to sell all of the Moore pieces. He sold them to the Hallmark Foundation in Kansas City; they displayed them in a beautiful garden. We now became the owners of the only Moore works that were still for sale. Subsequently, I went four times per year to England and became friendly with Mr. Moore. His Foundation was about one and a half hours outside London and magnificently beautiful. I loved working and talking with this artist; he was an extraordinary man.
I want to add something about Henry Moore, because I appreciate his art so much and was very close to him. He lived in a small house next to the Foundation. I went to see him when he was already quite sick; he sat in a big chair with a blanket over his knees and legs. His wife was on a daybed and had severe arthritis. Our conversation was about the importance of placing a sculpture properly. He emphasized that the sculpture should always be in a position where it had to be looked up to. He called his secretary to talk to her about the last work he had created, which was "Draped Woman with Child." He told her the number one piece was to go to me. She said she couldn't permit that because the first piece had to go to the head man in South Korea. Moore said to give me number two. She said number two also had to go to South Korea and Moore said, fine, number three, then. I paid the cost of casting and got number three from Mr. Moore and was very grateful. It was his way of thanking me for all of the business we had done and for the personal relationship we had had over the years. The artwork is now in front of our house in Southampton.
I had another idea: to contact Mrs. Annette Giacometti, the widow of Alberto Giacometti. So I went to Paris. We became friendly and I traveled to France three to four times a year to see her. On these occasions, I bought a substantial number of Giacometti works. Mrs. Giacometti considered selling her husband's art a special favor because she was not in the habit of doing so; she gave pieces only to some very close friends.
The third development was establishing a close relationship with the Marlborough Gallery and its owner, Frank Lloyd (a Viennese and a friend of mine for 30 years), and with Jan Krugier from Geneva. Together we bought many, many pieces at auctions. This activity was one of the most lucrative enterprises we had at the gallery. In five or six years we did more art business than in the previous 15, when my brother was handling the gallery.
The final, but perhaps the most important story, is my relationship with Fernando Botero who, in my opinion, is making an important statement in the history of art. Around 1967 I was walking with my brother on Park Avenue, when we noticed an exhibition going on in the Center for Inter-American Relations (Americas Society). It turned out to be Botero's first solo exhibit in New York. Both my brother and I were so enthusiastic after seeing his work that we asked the guard for the painter's phone number. He gave it to us, and we called Fernando and went to see him on 10th Street and 5th Avenue, where he had his studio. The paintings, 80 by 80 inches, were only $2000; the drawings, too, were very inexpensive. We started to buy and collect the paintings. Two years later, I proposed him to the Marlborough Gallery (we had no gallery at that time) and our attorney made an agreement between the artist and the Gallery. Subsequently we became among the most important collectors of Botero's art and very close personal friends. We remain so today.
All this might never have been possible without the steadfast help of my marvelous wife, Anne Marie, and my cherished daughter Belinda who, after graduating from New York University, engaged in such diverse activities as studying advanced Cabala and working as a hospital volunteer, helping addicts overcome their handicaps through art therapy. She also gave us five very talented grandchildren: Vanessa, 21 years old, a national horse-jumping champion; Elie, 19 years old, a promising doubles tennis player; Max, 17 years old, a first-class tennis player in his category; Ezra, 15 years old, Dean's List student, a poet and outstanding polo player; and last, though not least in this dear list, adorable Chloe, 7 years old and ready for Hollywood.
Without them, life would not be the same.