NEW YORK—Art collector Walter P. Vaifale announced Monday that he will no longer loan artwork to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Too often, he says, the museum returns his priceless works of art scratched, broken, or stained, if they remember to return them at all.
Vaifale, the holder of one of the world's most extensive private collections of modern and contemporary Western art, characterized the Kool-Aid stain on Peter Halley's White Cell With Conduit as "the last straw."
"Initially, the Guggenheim staff would make minor mistakes, such as returning my works in the wrong frame," Vaifale said. "Sometimes, when I'd visit, I'd notice a painting hung upside-down. I allowed the staff to brush my complaints aside for several years, but I'm sorry, getting peanut butter on Van Gogh's The Red Vineyard is unacceptable."
Vaifale estimated that the Guggenheim has damaged or lost nearly 30 of his holdings, a trend that began in 1989, when his Henri Rousseau oil Monkey In Trees, previously little-seen in public, somehow found its way into the gift-shop poster bin, where it sold to a 17-year-old Ohio high-school student for $16.99.
Vaifale said that, although he was "irritated" by the slipshod treatment of his artwork, he quietly tolerated minor mishaps in order to share his collection with a wider audience.
"If my de Koonings were hung backwards, I'd wince, but then I'd tell myself that maybe people got a perverse, Dadaist kick out of seeing the exposed wooden canvas backing," Vaifale said. "Well, they've loaned my pieces out to 'a friend who moved out of the country' one time too many. I don't care how much international prestige they have, they're lousy borrowers. There, I said it."
Even when paintings are returned undamaged, Vaifale said that it often takes dozens of phone calls and e-mails to various Guggenheim curators to get them back.
"I can't tell you how many of those jokers claim they 'spaced out' on returning my stuff," Vaifale said. "It's always, 'Shit, I totally meant to throw Still Life With Cracked Jug in my backpack before leaving today,' or, 'I had your Robert Motherwell right in my hand, but I must've set it down while I was fishing for my keys.'"
Vaifale added, "One time, they said to me, 'Oh, that Zorah On The Terrace!'"
According to Vaifale, the most infuriating incident occurred last Saturday night, when he was awoken by a 2 a.m. call from Guggenheim director Lisa Dennison. Dennison, whom Vaifale described as sounding intoxicated, reported the fate of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture.
"She told me that some of the curators had a bit too much to drink at a late-night party and decided, 'Wouldn't it be fun to take out the Slip 'N' Slide and lay it down along the spiral walkway?'" Vaifale said. "Well, of course, somebody slid off the thing and careened into the sculpture, sending it crashing to the ground."
Dennison was dismissive about Vaifale's decision to sever ties with the museum. She characterized Vaifale as "super-anal," and said the Hepworth sculpture "wasn't even all that priceless."
"Walter seriously needs to chill," Dennison said. "I apologized. What more can I do? Most of the famous statues out there are missing an arm or leg—now the Hepworth is missing that weird little beaky part. So what. The thing's probably worth more now."