With New Museums, a Once Disgraced Socialite Looks to Burnish His Legacy


CUENCA, Spain — He was as soon as described by Self-importance Honest as “a Gatsby for the Reagan era,” however, till just lately, life has been quieter for the Cuban-American artwork collector Roberto Polo.

Polo, a financier whose roller-coaster profession included a serious artwork fraud scandal that landed him in jail, has just lately resurfaced in central Spain, the place final month he defied the coronavirus pandemic to inaugurate a museum within the medieval hilltop metropolis of Cuenca that’s dedicated to his assortment. His first artwork area opened in 2019, in Toledo, a metropolis that after hosted the Spanish court docket of the Holy Roman Empire.

For Polo, the 2 museums, collectively often called the Roberto Polo Assortment: Middle for Trendy and Modern Artwork of Castilla-La Mancha, are an opportunity to determine a legacy and draw a line underneath his checkered previous.

Polo’s museums are each positioned within the area of Castilla-La Mancha and stem from an settlement between the collector and the area’s authorities. In return for a 15-year mortgage of 445 objects from his assortment of recent and up to date artwork, the authorities agreed to exhibit the works, insure them to a worth of about $425 million, and supply a private residence for Polo in Toledo.

“Spain has a specific expertise to create public museums for personal collections,” Polo instructed reporters throughout a museum presentation final month.

A big portrait of Polo stands on the entrance to the Toledo museum, and the explanatory panels summarize his life and achievements, from his delivery in Havana in 1951 by his finance profession, wherein he helped Citibank arrange a fine-arts funding division that the textual content calls “the primary of its form within the historical past of the banking trade.”

However no reference is made to the shadier episodes in Polo’s previous. As soon as celebrated in america as a socialite and cultural patron, in 1988, Polo turned a fugitive from justice and the goal of a $130 million art fraud lawsuit. He was ultimately detained in Italy and spent 4 years in jail. Polo additionally divorced his Dominican spouse, Rosa Suro, who used to put on jewels that he collected, however whom he later accused of siding in opposition to him within the fraud case.

“My life is just not linear, that of a bourgeois,” Polo stated in the course of the museum presentation. “This authorized story occurred 30 years in the past and I imagine in the fitting to overlook.”

Polo is now remarried to Michel Mora, a Frenchman who turned his assistant 20 years in the past. Whereas Polo’s settlement with the Spanish authorities was for a mortgage of the artworks, he stated that he anticipated Toledo to be his ultimate place of residency. “My intention is that these works won’t depart Spain,” he stated.

Polo’s museums are run by a non-public basis that receives an annual price range of two million euros, about $2.4 million, from the regional authorities. Earlier than transferring to Toledo, Polo spent a decade in Brussels, the place he had an artwork gallery, and Belgian artists account for 40 p.c of Polo’s Spanish assortment, in response to his basis’s director, Rafael Sierra.

However there are additionally works by well-known painters like Vasily Kandinsky, Max Ernst and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Within the Toledo museum, a hanging wooden and ivory sculpture faces a bay window that overlooks the Tagus, the river curling spherical the town. This work, “Grotesque III,” by the Bauhaus sculptor Oskar Schlemmer, can be essentially the most beneficial merchandise in Polo’s Spanish assortment, insured for €30 million.

Polo stated his museums solely exhibited a tiny fraction of the 7,000 works he owns, most of which had been in storage.

In truth, his museum footprint in Spain may enhance. In October, the mayor of Alicante, in japanese Spain, prompt creating a third home for a few of Polo’s assortment.

Spain’s museums have bolstered the tourism trade, however their proliferation has included some setbacks. Taking instance from the profitable 1997 opening of a Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, a number of Spanish cities tried comparable initiatives, a few of which were never finished, or hardly used.

Some regional and metropolis governments have offered the infrastructure however turned to non-public collectors to produce the works on present. A museum in Cáceres, in western Spain, opened in 2010, reveals the gathering of Helga de Alvear, for instance; one other, in Málaga, within the nation’s south, focuses on Spanish work owned by Carmen Thyssen, the widow of Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza, a baron whose personal assortment occupies one among Madrid’s primary museums.

In Toledo, Polo’s works are exhibited within the renovated convent of Santa Fé; the area spent €1.2 million in order that the constructing may accommodate the gathering. The Cuenca museum, in a former church, is considerably smaller, though the authorities specific hope that it’ll ultimately transfer to a bigger constructing. Cuenca already hosts an impressive museum of abstract Spanish art, collected by Fernando Zóbel, a Filipino painter and businessman.

However not everyone has shared the passion of legislators for utilizing public funds to showcase non-public overseas collections.

“I’ve nothing in opposition to Mr. Polo,” stated Norberto Dotor, a retired gallerist who ran areas in Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha, “however I can not settle for and perceive how our legislators may current this as a present.”

“What we wanted from our legislators was a regional artwork heart showcasing our personal cultural historical past and artists, reasonably than spending taxpayers’ cash on serving to a non-public assortment,” Dotor added.

Ángel Felpeto, who was the area’s tradition minister when the museum deal was signed with Polo, acknowledged that “some individuals felt that Toledo and Cuenca already had a lot to supply to guests and that having extra museums wouldn’t add loads.” However he argued that Polo’s assortment “crammed an necessary hole when it comes to European trendy and up to date artwork, not just for our area, however for Spain as a complete.”

Regarding Polo’s previous troubles, Felpeto added: “His judicial issues had been lengthy over and what mattered to us was the valuation and traits of the works he may provide us.”

Regardless of managing to rebuild an artwork assortment after leaving jail, Polo stated that he had regained nothing just like the wealth that he as soon as boasted, and wouldn’t profit financially from the museums in Spain.

“I’m a horrible businessman,” he stated, with a wry smile.



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