December 15, 2008

Madoff’s Artist Genius

Ruby Washington, New York Times

The lesson we may draw from Matisse, Kelly, Picasso and Lichtenstein is that many abstractions are possible for any given object, each of which illuminates some hidden truth. — from “ Sparks of Genius” by Robert Scott Root-Bernstein

Considering Bernard Madoff may well go down in history as not only Wall Street’s biggest swindler, but also a Ponzi scheme master who would have put Ponzi to shame, it’s rather ingenious of him to have posed for the New York Times way back when in front of his Bull Series by Lichtenstein (which I only uncovered myself by enlarging the inset photo in yesterday’s profile of the mastermind.)

Of course, there’s the double entendre, of the bull market he conjured in the minds of his dupes over decades, and the bull behind it the whole time.

At still another layer, however, there is Madoff’s kinship with Lichtenstein and the abstract expressionists. How fitting, and brilliant even, to grace his office and his media portrait with Lichtenstein’s 1973 lithographic series of this animal, in which the bull, just like Madoff’s own presentation of financial reality, reflected the same morphing into abstraction. (Almost as compelling to Madoff, I can imagine, was the pyramidal practice of abstract painters playing off each other’s replications, as Lichtenstein also did with this series, inspired by Picasso’s six bulls painted in 1945-6.)

Of course, those lithographs will be altering again, to return some (now) poor investor or fund a few pennies on the dollar.

from: The 17th Floor, Where Wealth Went to Vanish (NYT)

(image: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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