Dragon Psychology 101

Jun 18, 2020

Dragons hoard treasure, deep in their lairs. They don’t show it off to their neighbors. Revisionist History applies dragon psychology to the strange world of art museums, with help from Andy Warhol, J.R.R. Tolkien, a handful of accountants and the world’s leading hoarding expert.  Get Revisionist History updates first by signing up for our newsletter at pushkin.fm. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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starting today if you don't live in New York state you're going to have to pay a mandatory entrance fee to visit the Metropolitan Museum Eyewitness News ABC seven New York March 1st 2018 the new policy was announced in January but it took effect today adults who do not have ID proving that they live right here in New York have to pay $25 seniors will pay $17 if I had to pinpoint the beginning of my obsession with art museums it would be the moment

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the Metropolitan Museum one of the greatest museums in the world decided to impose entrance fees it was a difficult time for the institution they had a 40 million dollar deficit they got rid of 90 employees exhibitions were cancelled there was a shake-up in the leadership up and down the upper east side of Manhattan there was hand-wringing and a great gnashing of teeth I remember one New York Times headline from that time is the Met Museum

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is IAM a great institution in Decline that was followed by one expression of Anguish after another including this from the former chairman of the Mets drawings and print Department

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to have inherited a museum as strong as the mat was 10 years ago with a great curatorial staff and to have it be what it is today is unimaginable well exactly because for the life of me I couldn't imagine how it was the map was crying poverty I mean they have one of the largest and most valuable art collections in the world 1.5 million objects what's all that art worth I don't know

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a hundred billion dollars more the Met might be the richest nonprofit institution in human history all they would have to do is pick a couple things off the shelf and that never see a deficit again this is like Jeff Bezos firing the gardener because he's out of cash just go to the ATM Jeff but they couldn't do it they would rather fire people and make a family of four cough up to $100 at the gate then even think of parting with a

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well one of their possessions why it's a puzzle and it is for puzzles like this that we have revisionist history my name is Malcolm Gladwell you're listening to my podcast about things overlooked and misunderstood this is our fifth season five years of digression high dudgeon needless provocation and my absolute favorite

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Grand unified theories in this season of revisionist History I want to explore our emotional attachment to objects and rituals and tradition and the way in which those attachments Petraeus and in this first episode I would like to make sense of the strange relationship of the art world to art

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doing his 31 year tenure as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Philippe de Montebello the Mets 8th and longest-serving director guided the acquisition of more than eighty four thousand works of art I found this in a video series called great museums an episode from 2010 and acquiring mind lots of wide angle shots of marble floor galleries in Gilt frame paintings NPR Susan stamberg

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narrates other words sounds like an orchestra right there on the set born in France educated at Harvard in 1963 de Montebello broader background in European painting film runs for an hour it's about the most famous director of The Met Philippe de Montebello descendant of a noble French family in particular it's about how much stuff Philippe de Montebello bought during his 31 your tenure as head of the mat tapestries African sculptures a fabulous premiere

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an evening gown that's to die for Steven bought things he didn't want to buy Philippe has been an incredible director for supporting the Acquisitions of objects of great quality from across the globe it goes on and on about the acquiring to the point where you wonder or at least I wondered wait I thought you didn't have any money today nearly two million objects comprising an encyclopedic treasury of world art

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contained in the Mets growing collection apparently I was wrong in the numbers not 1.5 million objects 2 million objects let me give you an example maybe my favorite example of this weirdness in the art World it has to do with a public hearing held in July of 1991 at the Financial Accounting Standards Board better known as the fasb the fasb is the Vatican of the American accounting

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and and this was one of the occasional open sessions the fasb holds in order to share with the broader American public subjects of grave concern to the accounting Universe the venue was the fasb S Norwalk Connecticut headquarters the subject accounting for contributions received and contributions made and capitalization of works of art historical treasures and similar assets

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room is packed they videotaped the proceedings so people could watch in the Overflow room

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I've read a transcript of the hearing all 947 pages of it and I would like to direct your attention to a particular exchange it was between the then chairman of the fasb Dennis Beresford and a man named C Douglas Dillon

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Dylan was a tall man gray suit Patrician a certain stature he was former director of Dillon read & Co the Wall Street firm founded by his father and was possessed of maybe the greatest resume in mid century America US Treasury secretary for much of the 1960s ambassador to France chair of the Brookings Foundation president of the Harvard Board of overseers a close friend of John Rockefeller the third a

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class collector of impressionist art and most relevant for the purposes of the hearing that day chairman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City the American establishment sent its biggest gun to confront the fasb over the agency's proposal to change the rules surrounding the accounting for contributions received and contributions made and capitalization of works of art historical treasures and similar assets

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the accountants one of the art world to follow the same accounting rules as other businesses

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Dylan versus Dennis Beresford chairman of the fasb member of the American accounting Hall of Fame and the financial Executives International Hall of Fame

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way back on day one of the proceedings in question Beresford had made it plain that he wasn't going to stand for any nonsense so C Douglas Dillon was restrained in his objections gracious I'm going to guess this was his first visit to Norwalk Connecticut

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the room must have been hushed right I mean it's see Douglas freaking Dylan he does a little Preamble carefully explains how outraged the Met is at the intrusion of accountants into their business launches into a vivid description of the extraordinary size of the Mets collection and then and this is maybe my favorite part of the entire 947 page transcript Dylan says quote we have a new curator of is

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my card been with us for a couple years now we have certainly the greatest collection of Islamic rugs in the Western Hemisphere one of the two or three in the world he has never been able to even see that collection because so much of it is in storage and is so difficult to get out so costly and time-consuming that he knows by the records what they are but he hasn't been able to look at them

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C Douglas Dillon is speaking to an audience of accountants accountants are people who like to count things more than that they are people who believe as a matter of deep professional principle that everything can be counted and they have proposed that the art World agree to start counting things like everyone else and in response this pillar of the American establishment shows up in Suburban Connecticut and says

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we can't count our things there's just too many of them they're all buried somewhere in storage to give you an example the guy who was responsible for our Islamic rug collection maybe the greatest Islamic rug collection in the world mind you has never even seen our Islamic rug collection I have to say this is where the art World loses me

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so I called up the staffer at the fasb who organized that hearing all those long years ago his name is Ron Bozzio just retired this is a good exercise for a 73 year old to test the memory to go back yes I'm very impressed Fazio returned to his old offices at fasb headquarters to take my call so he would have access to the critical documents so I'm just going to pull up the financial

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of the Metropolitan Museum and I want to just want to very briefly walk through I was just I was just wondering if they could be Googled up here as well yeah he's on his computer I'm on mine we're downloading the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2019 annual report and locating the crucial part the statements of financial position beginning on page 44 I have cash

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receivable for Investments sold retail inventory these are all straight forward accounts receivable straightforward contributions receivable and Ice the pledges financial statements for almost any organization look pretty much the same you start by listing your assets everything of value then you list your liabilities loans mortgages pension obligations then you balance them that's why it's called a balance sheet boss Co and I are going

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the list of the Mets assets then there's Investments which I'm assuming is the endowment three points that would be endowment or it could be just investments in total they may not all be part of the endowment that I have fixed assets

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393 million and then I have collections and I have nothing

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it's supposed to be a precise accounting of everything that Matt has a value the amount the museum made last year from selling stocks the amount of cash it has on hand its endowment the amounts owed from various creditors the amount 8 gotten gifts and donations even the value of the inventory in its gift shop everything and they added all up and they come up with a number total assets

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but next to the line item entitled collections that is to say the millions of unimaginably rare and precious art objects owned by the museum the 18 Van Gogh's the 46 Picasso's the 20 Rembrandt's there is no dollar figure nothing it's blank all it says is c-note a okay ah here it is note a in the appendix it says in Conformity with accounting

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is generally followed by Art Museums the value of the Museum's collections has been excluded from the statement of financial position excluded this is a multi-billion dollar organization with us billions and billions of dollars in art and it's none of it is listed on there and financial statement the seems I don't know what I was I don't even understand how that started that was your reaction is similar to the reaction that some of

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of our board members had

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on top of that it turns out that the Met would rather charge admission cut exhibitions and get rid of 90 people then sell anything even though they have so many things like Islamic rugs that the guy running the Islamic rug collection hasn't even seen any of his Islamic rugs because they're all in storage somewhere

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in fact most of the bets collection is in storage huge football field sized warehouses presumably somewhere in New Jersey full of stuff

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and when the fasb says why don't you tell us like a normal institution just how much your stuff is worth because I don't know maybe it would be easier to think rationally about how to run things if you knew that fact the mat goes crazy dispatches C Douglas Dylan to Norwalk Connecticut to say never not on my watch we've never done that and we never will

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yeah this is unlike any other business you you're supposed to carry assets at either book or market value and you're supposed to put them in your financial reports and they don't this is Michael O'Hair who teaches in the business school at Berkeley if you ask anyone anyone who knows their way around a balance sheet about the way museums record their assets you get the Michael O'Hara response I was talking about this at some conference in somebody from an orca

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some Financial person from an orchestra said wait a minute you mean you buy a painting and then it just disappears and that's what happens there's there's an expense and then that's the last we hear about it in the financial records it's quite quite bizarre for the longest time I would bore everyone I met with how strange I found all this until one day I was in Holland on my book tour in Leiden out with a bunch of people in a bar and I told the group the store

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three of the epic showdown between Dennis Beresford and see Douglas Dylan and this one guy a philosopher said oh it's like smog smog the dragon from The Hobbit who sits on a mountain of treasure smog doesn't want to use his golden he doesn't wear it out to Dragon social events he does not list his Holdings on his annual Dragon financial statement he just wants to hoard it and I'm like oh my God

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smog yes that explains everything

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there's an old dragon and a gray stone a red eyes blinked as he lay alone his Joy was dead and the youth spent he was nabbed in wrinkle and his limbs bent in the long years to his gold chain his heart's furnace the fire Wayne

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this is JRR Tolkien reading his poem The Horde

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it was barely a slime gems stack thick silver and gold he would snuff and lick

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to his belly's slime gems stuck thick that's what happens when a dragon sits on his treasure for too long

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and the stuff that couldn't fit under his belly the dragon has buried deep inside his lair in storage

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following that Epiphany in the bar in Leiden I resolved to perform a field test of the hypothesis that art museums are modern-day versions of the Dragon Smaug this was a few months back I was going to be in Pittsburgh for another reason anyway so I decided to pay a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum the largest museum devoted to a single artist in North America so I made an appointment with the Museum's curator of art Jessica Peck

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on a bright and cold morning in Pittsburgh I headed out to the city's no short neighborhood to the beautiful old Warehouse that holds the museum I told Beck I didn't want to see just the collection the art on the walls I wanted to see everything Sobek graciously took me upstairs to the archives we're just off the staircase they were dozens of brown cardboard boxes stacked in neat piles

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oh I see other like plastic and you know kept behind glass yeah so this again is just a portion of them another weed how many are here see

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the cardboard boxes house what Warhol called his time capsules there are six hundred and ten of them in total he would put things in these cardboard boxes tape them shut and set them aside but he also had other boxes idea boxes what are called basement boxes after Warhol died everything was shipped to Pittsburgh in an armada of tractor-trailers the Museum's best guess is that in their archive they have at least 500 thousand objects

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and so the all the other boxes are behind that door yeah the rest of them are back there yeah it's not it's not something I can see that I'm not sure and I can ask we can find out because I wasn't sure if we found one of warhol's time capsules that have been opened it was on the counter like a patient etherized upon a table we peered Inside So This Is 50 suit 1956 Hong Kong yeah so his first trip to

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Asia a lot of them are closed right now because we're sort of trying to figure out how to keep the objects from shifting I was suddenly curious I wanted to see inside one of the closed boxes Beck said she didn't have the authority to open one up but she made a few calls finally she found someone okay that's good

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another of the museum staff hurried towards us this is John A John Malcolm so we are just going to peek into one just to get a sense of what's going to go sense yeah pick one at random and it's explaining you know that a lot of things are in folders but so there's they're heavy yeah you know like we 40 or 50 pounds in some cases John positioned himself in front of the box and began opening it up his movements were assured

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just so you know we treat the Box itself like it's part of a an object so that's why I wear the gloves so these would have been boxes that Andy would have this assistant store things in the we've taken the time to align the boxes with this folder type material so that the objects in the Box do not touch the acidic cardboard of the original box

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and they're kind of packaged very objects in here packaging that sort of a Tetris kind of way with folders that are marked in catalog so in its original form this stuff would have been

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it's crammed in it I wasn't sure what I was expecting to see in the Box drawings notes makeshift sculptures old canvases the working life of an artist so this is a pretty cool one a lenticular of the daisies did he make that or is that just something about that was probably something he bought yeah at best he would have commissioned it to be made but I think this was something that was purchased in then used as an instrument

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operation for his later work and you can smell it right do you smell that that's that's the object itself off gassing the lenticular is one of those pieces of cardboard with an image on it that's printed in such a way that it looks like it has three dimensions they're big with children this one had flowers on sometimes we find like notes like will be and he's intent like why he was collecting these along with the objects that you know what

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consider sort of source material

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yeah so he's got like six particular than that and that top folder John continued digging deeper deeper into the same box we found an old movie scrap board that once belonged to a fan somewhere a bunch of eight-by-ten glossies of movie stars Clark Gable Bing Crosby Lucille Ball you want to go one more folder yeah the student will do one last one last folder be cool so here are so we looked at a piece of what seemed

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junk mail an invite to an art opening so even that keep the paper clips now I see ya oh I see it's quite meticulous yeah everything is kept stalling

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John started whispering it seemed appropriate we were deep in the Dragon's Lair

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now why are Andy warhol's time capsules full of junk because he collected junk well if you wanted to Me Andy Warhol all he had to do in the 80s was go to the flea market the 6th Avenue flea market I'm in New York talking with Simon doonan writer fashionista in fact I just would search the flea market in the Warhol Diaries and it comes up about 12 times because he's always going to coming from

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blah blah blah I've known Simon ever since he wrote a book called eccentric glamour years ago which included chapters on Simone de Beauvoir Tilda Swinton the supermodel Iman and me which Remains the most Preposterous lie inaccurate but nonetheless deeply flattering thing anyone has ever written about me I love Simon doonan any way back in the day Simon knew Andy Warhol and the flea market where he hung out there was a

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protein flea market I can't growing expanding retreating any time there's a new law available that flea market expanded and it was a significant social scene like I remember seeing Catherine Deneuve there and it was just a place that you went if you were in New York it was a way of you know checking everybody out and meeting your friends we were in Simon's apartment and impossibly sheep warned of rooms I could walk

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around the show you many things that Jonathan and I or I myself bought at the 6th Avenue flea market that bust of Michael Jackson which people think is a Jeff Koons was 10 bucks at the flea market really think it was a Jeff Koons yeah have you told Jeff Gordon

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Simon doonan found treasure at the flea market everyone did but Warhol treated his treasure a little differently when Andy Warhol tied it emerged that he had not unpacked most of this stuff that he got at the flea market there were these stories I think in Vanity Fair about his house packed with shopping bags that he gotten at the flea market when he bought his Russell right China he collected he collected those cookie jars

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famously he would buy those teuscher chocolate sets I was obsessed with them but he would chew them and spit them out you know because he was always very concerned about keeping his trim little figure so the idea that he collected these big sort of rotund cookie jars we stuffed with cookies it's kind of hilarious because he was sort of you know always very conscious of his son his figure

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Andy Warhol was a hoarder all the classic symptoms Simon doonan used to head up the window dressing Department of Barney's and he famously did a homage to Worrell after his death entitled The compulsive collector we took the mannequin dressed in jeans the blue blazer turtleneck and then I just went and bought one of those tacky Warhol wigs that you could get at Halloween store put the glasses on him and instantly it became and e to the

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point where Pat Hackett who wrote the Warhol Diaries was sort of you know skipping down Seventh Avenue and Screech to a halt and she banged on the window and she said to me I nearly had a heart attack I thought Andy come back from the dead like I show you the window Simon brought out a book filled with pictures of his most famous Windows over this is fantastic this is fantastic can see it looks just like just like him and all around the

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Anakin was stuff the exact same kind of stuff that later found its way into the boxes at the Warhol Museum

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the definition of a collector is someone who collects objects discriminately someone who selects and chooses but assignments are nicely put it Andy Warhol was a compulsive collector his collecting was indiscriminate and what happens when he dies and his indiscriminate collection passes into the hands of a museum they don't edit it or streamline it they keep it exactly as it was

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hidden away behind locked doors the Warhol Museum is an indiscriminate collection of an indiscriminate collection the special thing about it I think is that it feels like it could be detritus in any other situation right like remains of a day like there's you know the flight kit you would get on a first-class international flight like the slippers the vomit bag the silverware from that international flight like in one of the time capsules so

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it's this like sense of Warhol when you're with the material but then again it's not you know I mean we even have the box after he died at the hospital of his clothing and his final effects that were left at the hospital we have that box preserved as it was picked up from the hospital so it had his jacket in it that he wore to the hospital for that final visit the backpack exactly how it was packed

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it has like all of his glasses and the business card for his doctor in the front pocket

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no I don't mean to pick on the Warhol Museum this is what all art museums do during his tenure running the Met Philippe de Montebello acquired 84,000 objects the overwhelming majority of which were packed away in boxes and sent to storage in New Jersey never to be seen again

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that's not any different from the mountain of detritus in cardboard boxes upstairs at the Warhol Museum

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somewhere in the United States there are twin brothers I don't know precisely where they live but in a big city can you just describe them they're not married I take it they're not married the psychologist Randy Frost who work closely with them for some time refers to them as Alvin and Jerry both pseudonyms born into a wealthy family childhood prodigies rumpled suits and bow ties these are two people I really liked intensely

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the brothers lived in adjoining identical Penthouse Apartments in a hotel each with an 800 square foot great room with double-height ceilings and each brother had filled his great room with things I'm quoting now from frost account of the case from a book he co-authored called stuff every square foot of the great room and dining room was packed with works of art and period Furniture 18th and 19th century paintings

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is bus antiques lamps jewelry and more and quote

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they had no Pathways between all of their stuff you stepped over things as you walked some of the piles were 6 feet high on top of the art work clothes everywhere and papers business cards bits of junk

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they were lovely they were intense and what they did they they had this kind of bond as as twins but tension at the same time fascinating fascinating characters and really very interested in this phenomenon for themselves this phenomenon meaning hoarding Frost began to study hoarding behaviors with the assumption that they sprang from the same place as obsessive compulsive disorders

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but the more he worked with hoarders the more he became convinced that description didn't fit OCD behavior is about the catastrophic reaction to an intrusive thought and those intrusive thoughts are negative danger threat contamination but so much of hoarding appeared to be the opposite it appeared to be about pleasure

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one of the brothers Alvin would come home for lunch nearly every day just to be among his things not to organize but to enjoy Frost would go with him on some of those visits and Alban would walk through the chaos pick up random objects and describe the story behind each one of his treasures look at this doctor his voice rose with excitement as he found a Ring The Ring he thought was from Western India it was huge almost the size of a walnut to say

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we see in the book when you're walking through Alvin's apartment with him and he's picking up objects yeah but many of those objects have genuine value many of them did some of them didn't some of them did and it reminded me a little bit of Andy Warhol because he collected things in this way and things with immense value and things of no value and put them all into into these treasure chests yeah yeah was Alvin

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where you must have been aware intellectually of what was Marketplace valuable and what yes yes it just it was all a value to it was all value to him yeah yeah and he had no desire

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he didn't want to show off his treasures in anyhow Frost says that the impulse to hoard has three motivations which one is instrumental that is I might need it someday he other is emotional that is this emotional connection with another person or event or something and the third is thetic this idea of the beauty of the physical world the second of those ideas the emotional one Frost describes as the proust effect from the famous Passage

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Bruce remembrance of things past he's eating this cookie and all of a sudden he it brings him back to his childhood when his aunt used to make these cookies for him and he remembers the way it felt a little bit like other phenomena is like hearing a song from your childhood what started to dawn on me was that with people with this problem these objects formed that kind of experience in a much more intense way than everybody

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else so somehow these objects are keys to these visceral memories that get produced so finding something anything some token some Memento anything that from your past triggers and a much more Vivid recollection than you know than the rest of us and then for the rest of us yes and and it is a Recollections it was a hold of the sea

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fasting notion so you mentioned music so most of us would have it there are songs if you play them yes have that yeah thing for me Yaz only you I don't know why that's not because of me but I can imagine so what you're saying is that feeling I have with you as only you only with a book of matches about box of matches or absolutely yes a playbill or a yes

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one of frost patients was a woman who couldn't throw away a Disney blanket that her daughter had loved as a small child because she feels like if she throws it away she will lose the memories associated with that blanket and she will lose that piece of History her personal history and and if she throws away too much there's nothing Well left of her for another patient it was one of those atmcash envelopes from five years ago

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there was no cash in and she spent the cash that was in it but on the back she'd written how she spent it and it wasn't anything unusual grocery store or drugstore few other items she put it in the recycle box and she started to cry and she said it feels like I'm losing that day in my life and if I lose too much they'll be nothing left of me

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they'll be nothing left of me one of the twin brothers Alvin was a successful event organizer he once told Frost that he had lost a folder containing his notes from something he'd organized and even though the event was recent every memory he'd had it it was gone and when he found the folder again his memories returned if your mind works that way why would you ever throw away that folder most people would look at this in CMS

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he told frost on one of their visits to his Penthouse and then he said really it's layered and complex their pain houses were so overwhelmed with stuff that they had to live elsewhere in smaller rooms in the hotel which were also overwhelmed with stuff but they couldn't part with any of it it would be too great a loss

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they didn't want to itemize it or put it under balance sheet or show the world

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I'm sure they had their own Islamic rugs buried somewhere in there great room which they had never seen

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when you got them away from their from the subjective hoarding and away from their Apartments yeah I mean what would they like oh they were they were fun they were fascinating they knew something about everything they were both delightful delightful people if you talk to a layperson they would probably think of hoarding is a kind of mental illness imagining this not Anna mental it's not a sort of

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opposite that effects in all aspects of your functioning the way I described it sometimes is a form of giftedness there's a gift sociated with this and appreciation for the physical world the an appreciation for the emotional experience that's associated with objects and and that that gift unfortunately comes with a curse and and the curse is not be able to manage it

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the holder is someone with the unusual ability to see Beauty in the ordinary which is exactly the point that Simon doonan made about Andy Warhol the nicest aspect of him was that he was very Democratic example he said if everyone's not a beauty then nobody is

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that's kind of lovely it's fabulous is that that's why he thought these these drag queens you know Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn were not objectively Sofia Loren but he saw Beauty and magic and Madness and them you know you know what but Simon that is the perfect illustration of the particular condition wonderful condition of the hoarder who applies that same logic to objects if every object is not is not

► 00:44:20

beautiful then no object is right it's the exactly the same like some crappy old Broken Toy is the same as an honor VO5 as that your grandmother left you yeah exactly that's the that is the god that's haunting it is isn't it haunting and it's why the Warhol Museum keeps all of warhol's boxes because they have the same condition that Warhol had they have to insist on the meaning and beauty in all of that ephemera

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are there the Warhol Museum and like the hoarder they worry that if they get rid of any of his stuff they'll lose their connection to him and can they count that stuff up and put a value on it no because to the hoarder everything is of equal value

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so you get into these debates they get esoteric sometimes but you know standard-setting eventually the board says are we got to get to closure we got to make a decision we can't just go on forever Ron bossy oh my guide to the hearing of the fasb in 1991 when C Douglas Dylan appeared in Norwalk Connecticut and stood up before the Vatican of accounting and said we cannot tell you what we have in our collections that is not the way our imaginations are wired

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and the Vatican backs down the accountants realize that this is a battle they cannot win with the result that on virtually every American Art Museum balance sheet there is some version of note a in Conformity with accounting policies generally followed by Art Museums the value of the Museum's collections has been excluded from the statement of financial position

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when the moon was new in the sun young of silver and gold the God's son the green grass they still have a spill on the White Waters they with gold filled in tokens poem The Horde everyone who desired the treasure dies in the end but the treasure remains buried deep in giant warehouses in New Jersey

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there's an old haul in a dark Rock the gotten behind doors and done can unlock that Grim gate no man can pass on the mound grows the green grass their sheep feed him locks all the wind blows and the seizure the old hard the night should keep all that weights and the elves sleep revisionist history is pretty

► 00:47:06

buy me labelled and Lee Mingus do with Jacob Smith Eloise Litton and Anna and I'm our editor is Julia Barton original scoring by Luis Guerra mastering by flan Williams fact-checking by Beth Johnson special thanks to the Pushkin crew headed Fain Carly migliori Maya Koenig Maggie Taylor Jason gambrel and of course El Jefe Jacob Weisberg

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I'm Malcolm Gladwell