December 26, 2009

Oil That Glitters Is Not Gold


Sometime in 1939, on the eve of the opening of the new building of the Museum of Modern Art on New York’s 53rd Street, an impressively intrepid museum employee decided to play a practical joke on her bosses. Her name was Frances Collins. And as the Museum’s director of publications, she and a friend had concocted an invitation, to be sent to seven thousand distinguished persons, to the opening of what was declared their “Museum of Standard Oil.” Their invitation card, printed in fancy script, came from “The Empress of Blandings” (a character in the form of an overly fat pig drawn from English satirist P. G. Wodenhouse’s novels) and would, so it announced, admit “Two persons or one person and two dogs.” Within the invitation packet was a small card that read “Oil That Glitters Is Not Gold” alongside a letterpress engraving of a crown. The overt allusion to then-MoMA president Nelson Rockefeller’s entrenchment in the world of oil – his father John D. Rockefeller, having founded the modern oil industry as we know it – did not roundly amuse everyone. Collins promptly lost her job. The MoMA, as we know, went ahead and opened as planned.

- From the Bidoun article on the project Cultural Diplomacy: The Art We Neglect by artist Alessandro Yazbeck and art historian Media Farzin


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