The Idea Man's Secret Treasures

By Gopnik, Blake | Newsweek, October 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Idea Man's Secret Treasures


Gopnik, Blake, Newsweek


Byline: Blake Gopnik

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen-the world's first masterpiece-collecting, Jimi Hendrix-worshiping philanthropist.

Sit with Paul Allen in his office in Seattle and you might take him for the head of a middling actuarial firm. He is 59 and pear-shaped, in black slacks, a white shirt, and blue tie, with his hair cut short above nondescript glasses. His aggressive banality comes as a shock, given his outsize resume.

He's the "Idea Man" (self-styled, as per his autobiography) who helped Bill Gates found Microsoft and walked away with billions early on. He's the man who had such a passion for Jimi Hendrix that he built a Frank Gehry museum to house his Hendrixiana. He funded the first commercial manned flight into space, has owned sports teams, cavorted with athletes, and jammed with rockers on his various estates and yachts.

But in his office in Seattle, you might need to be an art critic to get a whiff of his status and wealth. Look around and you spot two gorgeous Calders on a table nearby. Glance through a door and you see one of Rodin's casts of The Thinker; walk through it and you take in Giacometti's bronze Femme de Venise, worth maybe $5 million, as well as a lovely Monet landscape that could have cost several times that. You might also recall the glorious Rothko, glowing in orange and yellow, that you passed on the way to the interview. It has been brought in from Allen's home as the backdrop for this story's portrait shoot--a canvas now worth something like $80 million, protected from stray elbows by a row of $12 pylons in safety orange. (They go rather well with the Rothko.) There's more wealth here, in these few square feet, than many millionaires amass in a lifetime, and the artworks in sight are only a small part of Allen's hoard.

This legendary nerd (although Allen bridles at a "pocket protector" image) is also an artsy who spends a fair part of his $15 billion fortune on cultural goods--both as treats for himself and for others. "Some of these things you're so taken with that you find it pretty amazing that you could have something like that in your home, and enjoy it every day," says Allen. "That's a pretty amazing thing. On the other hand, you feel that it's better to loan these things out."

With no great fanfare, the secretive collector has started to circulate his treasures to the public--a philanthropic morsel that is part of a larger program of kindness to the arts that so far has stretched to more than $100 million. On Oct. 15, at the National Arts Awards gala in New York, the group called Americans for the Arts is honoring Allen with its philanthropy prize.

Last year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy named Allen the nation's most generous living donor; he beat George Soros and Michael Bloomberg and has been on its top 50 list for a decade. Speaking from his Washington office, Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, talks about Allen as the kind of honoree "who can inspire others to do more."

In 2010, Allen pledged to give away at least half his fortune, after a nudge from his school pal Bill Gates. Most of the money is likely to go to his many science causes, which have already sucked up something like a billion Allen dollars. But if even a sliver of his pledge ends up spent on the arts, AFA will feel its award was well given. Arts centers across the Northwest are crowded with plaques thanking the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and more will no doubt have to be carved.

And then there's the part of Allen's wealth that has been transmuted into art, which, in a classic philanthropic move, could get passed on to museums. Allen is on all the "great collector" lists, but the details of what he owns are murky. "I know nothing," says a New York art adviser normally in the know. "It's locked up tight. I haven't seen a level of privacy so intense, and so maniacal." Allen is known for his nondisclosure agreements; his employees should have "No comment" tattooed on their foreheads, to save journalists time. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Idea Man's Secret Treasures
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.