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Subjective Realities, Indeed

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 13, 2005 11:08PM

When Chicagoist first set eyes on Andreas Gursky’s monumental-scale photography at the Museum of Contemporary Art's 2002 Summer Solstice, we had no idea that one impressive but rather unassuming photo would today rest at the center of controversy. Avenue of the Americas (pictured below) compresses a row of apartment buildings into a space approximately 7 x 11 feet while somehow maintaining their grand presence. Needless to say, this isn’t the type of work that you or I could easily shoot in our spare time and even the largest monitors in Chicago can’t adequately replicate the real thing.


This strangely beautiful work belongs to The Refco Group, the brokerage rocked by an accounting scandal and subsequent bankruptcy last October. In case this story flew under your radar, CEO Phillip Bennett managed to hide $430 million in debt and, once exposed, made the cash magically reappear but refused to admit any wrongdoing. Bankruptcy proceedings for one of CBOT’s largest clients are expected to be a long, arduous affair, but the MCA appears to have an open and shut case for Avenue. Gursky’s New York representative sold it to Refco for a pittance on the condition that they’d donate it to the museum.

Regardless of how the judge rules, the Refco story gives us pause. Refco amassed one of the most impressive corporate art collections in the world, including works by Cindy Sherman, Matthew “Cremaster” Barney, Richard Prince and Thomas Struth. It’s a collection revered in a book entitled Subjective Realities, a motto Mr. Bennett apparently took to heart. From the book’s description:

Long considered a mirror image of the real world, a direct and objective record of what exists in the visual stratosphere, the photograph has come to be understood as something much more complicated and variable, something easily manipulated and modified.

Rather than speculate how much fiscal manipulation allowed Refco to indulge their finer instincts, we just hope this collection finds its way to better homes.