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Cultural Capitalism

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New York ceased its vain lamentations over the election and returned to the important business of being the nation’s cultural capital. While MoMA continued to preen itself on the imminent opening of its $858 million expansion, the Metropolitan Museum of Art made its most expensive acquisition ever, paying $45 million for Madonna and Child, a rare work by the fourteenth-century Sienese master Duccio. Apt remarks to make in front of the painting when it is finally hung will include “It’s much smaller than I imagined!” (no bigger than a sheet of typing paper, actually) and “Isn’t that a parapet in the foreground?” Auctions of contemporary art saw record-breaking prices paid for works by Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein. So giddy was the market that even Richard Phillips’s portrait of George W. Bush—bid for amid much hissing at Sotheby’s—beat its high estimate of $90,000, selling for $142,400. Newly released FBI statistics showed that New York continues to be America’s safest large city, and by an ever-increasing margin. Our dwindling number of criminals seem to be losing their savvy. A court heard the case of a 22-year-old Bronx man who’d made off with a $30,000 cello from Juilliard, only to be apprehended after he signed the receipt in his own name when selling the instrument to a music store. A 41-year-old man alleged to have murdered his ex-girlfriend was spotted fast asleep on the subway by a cop who’d seen his mug shot. Before making the arrest, the officer gently woke the suspect from his slumber, calling, “Hey, Jessie . . . ” Hip-hop ads on city buses saying READ BOOKS, GET BRAIN were removed after the latter expression was found to be slang for oral sex. NASA robots roaming the surface of Mars, it was reported, were receiving their commands from a couple of guys operating out of a second-story apartment in Nolita. But the most thrilling developments of all were in the culinary domain. A restaurateur returned from Italy with a 1.2-pound white truffle that cost him $41,000. And in Greenwich Village, Murray’s Cheese Shop moved from one side of Bleecker Street to the other. Life only gets better.


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