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The Scent of Art (continued)

    The Lauder family has also been generous in its support of the University -- most notably, perhaps, through the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies, to which they have contributed $20 million since establishing it in 1983. Named for Leonard and Ronald's late father, the institute offers a two-year degree program that integrates an MBA from Wharton with an MA in international studies from the School of Arts and Sciences.
    Where did the idea for the program come from? "At Wharton I always wanted to major in international business, but there was no such major," explains Ronald. "By taking courses at Wharton and some international-relations courses at Penn, I created my own major. The Lauder Institute grew out of my original frustration and a conversation I had with my brother about the need to have a real international business school connected with Wharton." Leonard calls it "one of the great joint-degree programs, copied by a number of other universities."
    The brothers' interest in international business has helped them expand the family company worldwide. During the Cold War, Ronald was often in Eastern Europe to open Estée Lauder companies. "I always said to myself that here was a region of enormous potential." In 1989 he founded the Central European Development Corporation, to help identify investment opportunities there.
    If this story is about two brothers, it is also about the art of this century -- about modern art, contemporary art, and American art, and how the three intersect. Contemporary art is art created in our time. But defining modern art is a dicier proposition. Some scholars say it's anything after the Renaissance. But most cite its birth in the late-19th century with the Post-Impressionists Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. With his concentration on the underlying structure of his subjects, Cézanne inspired so many 20th-century painters that he's often called the Father of Modern Painting. The Museum of Modern Art, which opened in 1929 under founding director Alfred H. Barr, was the first museum to display modern art as a historical movement of unparalleled experimentation, encompassing Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Constructivism, Dada, and, later, Abstract Expressionism.
    The story of modern art as told in MoMA's permanent collection begins appropriately enough with eight oils by Cézanne, but for decades, its centerpiece was Picasso's greatest masterwork, Guernica, painted in angry response to the 1937 Nazi bombing of the Basque city of Guernica. It hung at MoMA till the 1975 death of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco, when the artist had it sent to Madrid's Prado. Guernica's a hard act to follow, but, in its absence, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Max Beckmann's The Departure, Henri Matisse's The Dance, and the room devoted to Claude Monet's giant canvases of Waterlilies fill the need for the big masterpiece.
    For daring, however, for the shock of the new, Jackson Pollock's One (Number 31, 1950) bids fair to replace Guernica. Even its size and color scheme of grays and blacks hark back to the Picasso. That the painter drank to excess and died in a car crash at 44 only adds to the painting's violent presence. And just as the Pollock in some ways replaced the Picasso, One (Number 31, 1950) represents the moment when the capital of the art world shifted from Paris to New York -- the New York School (Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning) supplanting the School of Paris (Picasso, Braque, Matisse).
    From 1958 to 1968, Estée Lauder's offices were across the street from MoMA. When Ronald started working at the family business after Penn, he would visit the museum in his spare moments two or three times a day. When I ask him to name a few favorites at MoMA, he smiles. "I have so many, they'd fill an entire issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette. On each wall in each room, I have them. I walk from room to room and look at them in the same way I meet close friends at a restaurant." It's an experience that is multiplied in millions of other lives every year. Walking through a blockbuster museum show, in fact, is one of late-20th-century urban life's signature communal experiences. The year 1993 saw one of MoMA's all-time feel-good exhibitions of a major and beloved artist, Henri Matisse, and three years later, hundreds of thousands flocked to the more difficult "Picasso and Portraiture." Blockbuster shows like these are money in the bank for museums like MoMA and the Whitney.
    If modern art began with Cézanne, when does it end? Probably sometime in the 1960s, with Pop Art, or the late 1970s, when people started using the term post modernism. An absolute final cut-off is surely the end of the century. And the Museum of Modern Art is readying itself to focus on contemporary art not rigidly tied to 20th-century modernism. That means buying and showing new art while continuing to display the old, which in turn means finding more space. After MoMA bought an adjacent hotel in 1994, the museum went through several years of public and private self-examination before, in December of last year, choosing Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi to execute a renovation and expansion.
    The expansion has had major competition for attention with the completion of what many people consider the great building of this generation, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, an astonishing silver vision in the Basque city of Bilbao. The first thing you have to get over with Taniguchi's plan is that it is not "Bilbao on 53rd Street." The two architects had completely different assignments. Gehry started from scratch. Taniguchi was hemmed in by almost intractable midtown Manhattan real estate. In his plan, the hotel next door comes down. The main entrance moves a block north to 54th Street. The old entrance becomes the entry to MoMA's expanded movie theaters. The Sculpture Garden -- one of New York's premier rendezvous, with its graceful, sheltering weeping beech, Rodin's Balzac and Picasso goat -- gets bigger. A larger education building brings generations of kids to new art. MoMA is reserving its new ground floor for contemporary art, with the higher floors for the permanent collection. Total pricetag: $650 million. Ronald Lauder, who was part of the committee that chose Taniguchi, says: "I have been part of each expansion at MoMA since the 1960s, but none has been greeted like the present one, with its hopes for the future." Opening date: 2004.

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