Who was the bad guy in The Gross Clinic affair?
Not just Thomas Jefferson University, writes Richard Carreno in the latest Broad Street Review:
As with any Hitchcock thriller, the plot must be thickened beyond a single mere villain. Joining Jefferson as grifters are the acquisitive National Gallery of Art in Washington, Christie's auction house in New York, and— too perfect to be true!— a bumbling billionairess from Arkansas, the Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. The caper's fall guys? Two of the nation’s premier art institutions, the Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy. The patsy in chief? The City of Philadelphia.
By Carreno's lights, Walton was the easy mark - "at Wal-Mart she functions as a retailer of velveteern Elvis portraits" - and Christie's consultants earned their fees "by devising an ingenious alternative plan." Instead of an auction or straight sale, as we all know by now, Jeff got Walton and the National Gallery to offer $68 million, but the deal was off if a local buyer could match the amount. Enter, the Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy, the city and assorted art lovers.
Carreno, editor of the Junto blog, and a Center City resident who's taught at Harvard and Cambridge, has taken some heat for his piece in the letters column. Patrick D. Hazard, writing from Weimar, Germany, sniffed a bit of elitism in Carreno's take:
Richard Carreño really nails the scammy Jefferson/Christie's Gross Clinic caper (see “The auctioneer’s song”). But I also deplore the cracker-baiting of Carreño’s sneering at Alice Walton. Noah's Ark, indeed. Were the millions of Mellon, Rockefeller, or Getty amassed more cleanly than Sam Walton's? Have no Philly eggheads ever visited Bentonville?
In my Appalachian lit phase, I spent weeks in Arkansas and its adjacent states. Except for their birthright racism, I found those locals more attractive humans than most Ivy snobs. And the presumption that Ozarkies are contemptible slobs ignores the Southern literary renaissance as well as great architects like Sam Mockbee and E. Fay Jones.
One sad side story of the Gross affair is the stupid snobbery of the Philly clerisy. Albert Barnes had them down straight. And they haven't improved much since.