I used to have this weird dream. I’m the only person in the whole world – everyone else vanished, gone, whisps of smoke into the thin air. All infrastructure remains. This enables me to go anywhere, do anything, and own anything. Interestingly the concept of ownership doesn’t exist on a planet with a population of one.

I get busy, visiting and plundering all the great museums & art galleries of the world. Building an incomparable collection I house it in Russborough. Very soon I realise a sad fact. I don’t have other people to share it with. And that’s the thing. It isn’t much fun. For some it’s knowledge, taste, a private relationship. These souls are few and far between. For others, no matter what anyone says, it’s more fun to show off their gatherings. I’m somewhere inbetween.

Man’s wealth and power can be displayed through art. And have been, throughout all the ages. Billionaires don’t buy hundred million dollar pictures just for the love of it. Art at such levels, owned privately, is an extremely potent symbol of power. Repeatedly, actually, boringly repeatedly, the first thing most men do when stratospheric wealth is achieved is go and buy some high priced art. This is usually before time touches their shoulder and points out that philanthropy might be a more useful, better, legacy [some sadly don't get the hint, and go to their graves with dusty frames on the wall and billions in the bank]. This high priced ‘art buying thing’ is rite of passage with the super wealthy. Sad but true. But it’s not all foolishness if the art bought is chosen wisely. But sadly this too is where many newly minted fall down.

Henry Kravis is an exception. He’s an exceedingly clever man. Head and co-founder of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts and Co., a well-known New York investment/vulture fund, he’s built up an old style, conservative art collection that ticks all the boxes. Cooped up in his Manhattan apartment it’s a collection that, if you had blue rinsed hair, would make you weep. Seriously good things of their type. No sudden movements, nothing too edgy, all tried and proven in the museum world. A perfect entree. Consequently Mr. Kravis sits on the board of several important American museums, all toadying up to him for the past forty years for a piece. Perfect. You see. Without the art he’d be just another boring billionaire. With it, he has social standing, desirability. And access – that most important thing.

The power of high priced art, it’s not just a pretty picture on the wall you know.

Damien Matthews


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