Art as a Matter of Life and Death

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What do you say to the young person you've just met, who, matter-of-factly, tells you that he's going to die?

Daniel Jacoby was introduced through a mutual friend, who asked that I advise Daniel on collecting contemporary art. Only a few years prior, he had made a fortune in computer software. One day he's renting a room in a modest house, the next day he's moving to one of the more impressive digs in the Malibu Colony. But in his case, the good fortune was overshadowed by the news that he had an inoperable brain tumor. For most people in such a predicament, art would be the last thing on their mind, but Daniel embraced it passionately. We went to see art exhibitions all around town, and I remember him being a fast learner, drilling me endlessly for information.

Considering his particular situation, I thought that instead of buying art he should spend time and energy seeing, talking, and experiencing art. And not merely as a welcome distraction, but as a unique source of strength. I'm not a religious person, and neither was he, but the spiritual - almost redemptive - power of art was obvious to both of us.

Daniel passed away few days ago. But here on my computer, I find a farewell e-mail written in advance by him to the people he loved, expressing hope that he, "will be reunited with family, friends, and Monet." Yes, Claude Monet, believe it or not! I wanted to share this story with you, because it's not that often that Life, Art, and Death create such a powerful alliance.

I wonder what my friend Daniel would say to the latest news coming from Mayor Hahn's office, recommending the wholesale elimination of the Cultural Affairs Department due to the State budget crisis. Twenty-five million tourists visit Los Angeles annually, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to its economy. Art and Entertainment is a major magnet in attracting people to our city. Considering all that, what would be the appropriate word to describe a proposal to kill a department with a modest budget, but a significant impact on serious cultural life. Is it short-sitedness? Lunacy? Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

And speaking about priorities, here's yet another surprise delivered last Sunday by the venerable L.A. Times, the one - and unfortunately only - paper in town. Its Calendar section covers art and culture, and on this occasion, the cover story occupying the entire front page, was a tribute to Dame Edna, the irresistible and deliciously vulgar creation of the character-actor Barry Humphries. But when I count the number of photographs illustrating this story - seven to be exact, and all of them in full color - I shake my head in disbelief. Buried inside of this same section, an article about MOCA's incredibly ambitious and groundbreaking exhibition about Minimal Art. And only two, and not even color but black and white, photographs accompany it. Thank you Los Angeles Times for getting its priorities straight.