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The Lauder Brothers

December 30, 2008

I profiled brothers Ronald and Leonard Lauder in 2002 as two of the world’s top collectors, patrons, philanthropists, and chairmen of major New York museums. They talk every day and buy art almost as often.


For the first five minutes or so, Ronald Lauder is able to sit still. But then he is a man in motion. He stretches, he squirms, he leans over and back in his chair. He reaches with a lackadaisical arm to roll a therapeutic exercise ball with his fingertips. Austere, gray, yet handsome, the ball fits precisely into the room. “It could be a Joseph Beuys,” says the chaiman of the Museum of Modern Art with a low, rolling chuckle.

Ronald Lauder’s office, 42 floors above New York City in the General Motors Building, near Central Park, is an idiosyncratic melange of art and architecture, both tactile and arresting. The sensibility bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the Neue Galerie New York, the museum of German and Austrian art that he founded. It opened last year in a 1914 brick-and-limestone mansion almost directly across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

leonard-lauderNot far below, on the G.M. building’s 40th floor, is the headquarters of the Estee Lauder Companies, the cosmetics company founded by his mother, Estee Lauder, and now run by his brother, Leonard. The waiting room for the executive offices is swathed in shades of blue, the company’s signature color, and is decorated with an Old World sense of feminine zeal––flowered porcelain bowls, crystal light fixtures, antique gilt furniture, and Oriental carpets laid over blue carpeting. 

Leonard Lauder’s office on the 40th floor, by contrast, is a showcase of 20th-century American works by Agnes Martin, Claes Oldenburg, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Kenneth Noland. In private, he is a leading collector of Cubist work; in public, he is the chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art who recently led a donation to the museum of some $200 million worth of postwar art.  

Download the entire ARTnews article here.

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