Fed Chiefs Excel in Art, Not Just Math


We tend to love reading about how the governmental bodies view art — depressing when you consider the federal budget, heartwarming when you hear that the Obamas picked Alma Thomas for the White House collection — but little did we know how opinionated the Federal Reserve chairmen could be on the matter. (Well, let’s not forget the Feds were all schooled before Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy neglected the arts as core curriculum for K-12 education.) Today, Mary Anne Goley — former director of the fine arts program for the board of governors — penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal about the tastes of various Fed chairs, and let’s just say, it’s pretty revealing.

The rundown:

3 – The number of artworks owned by the board of governors when the fine arts program was founded in 1975.

450 – Current number of artworks acquisitioned by the board.

$0 – Money allotted to the acquisitions fund. Instead, all pieces have been acquired through donations.

1 – Number of chairmen with museum credentials (Paul Volcker, Fed chief from 1979-87, who as “deputy undersecretary for monetary affairs at Douglas Dillon’s Treasury Department, would, on occasion, represent Dillon at board meetings of the National Gallery of Art”).

2 – Number of Ellsworth Kelly works selected by Alan Greenspan from the National Gallery of Art for the program’s 20th anniversary (“Tiger” from 1953, above left, and “Colors for a Large Wall” from 1951, above right).

3 – Number of times, according to Goley, that current Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has changed his stylistic preference for art collected by the board of governors. (Bernanke first chose two traditional American landscapes, was then “ebullient” about a Robert Rauschenberg assemblage, then settling on two post-war pieces including Ilya Bolotowsky’s “Double Diamond” from 1949, below, which Goley says is “as good as it gets for American nonobjective painting.” Not bad!