Note from Dan: While I’m on vacation this blog will feature some oldie-but-goody columns from the past. This one originally ran Sunday, Oct. 28 and created a bit of a firestorm among readers who either loved or hated it. It also prompted this response on the newspaper’s op-ed page.
Ever have a strange dream? It happens to me all the time.
The other night, it was about the Taubman Museum of Art. But it wasn’t about the museum.
It was about the recent takeover by the local luminaries who brought us that building four years ago. And the behind-the-scenes conversations among them that preceded the recent coup.
I dreamed I was a fly on the wall of Heywood Fralin’s office when his phone rang. You know Fralin — he’s the local art connoisseur and mid-Atlantic nursing home king. The caller was Nick Taubman, the auto parts titan and former ambassador.
To answer, Fralin pushed the button for the speakerphone.
Taubman: Woody, is that you?
Fralin: Who’s this?
Taubman: It’s Nicky.
Fralin: Nicky? Nicky WHO? I don’t know any Nickys.
Taubman: Come on, Woody. It’s me, the guy they named the art museum after.
Fralin: Nicky, you’ve got a lot of nerve, calling me. That was supposed to by MY museum.
Taubman: Settle down, Woody. You’ve got your museum now. It’s up in Charlottesville and . . .
Fralin: Yeah. It’s 100 darn miles away!
Taubman: Cry me a river. That’s 20 minutes in your helicopter. They got most of your art, right?
Fralin: You’re darn right they did. You think I want my stuff hanging with those dreary Thomas Eakin mugs in that monstrosity on Salem Avenue?
Taubman: I’m calling about the Taubman Museum of Art.
Fralin: You know what I call it? ‘The Taubman Museum of Art and Failure,’ and . . .
Taubman: It’s going under, Woody. They’re going to have to shut down.
Fralin: â? I have to say, it’s failing spectacularly. You saw what the University of Chicago wrote, right? ‘Build it and they won’t come,’ ha.
Taubman: That’s why I’m calling. We’ve got to do something.
Fralin: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any museum flop so badly. Scuttlebutt is, your gross revenue for August was $3.98.
Taubman: That’s not true. This is serious, Woody.
Fralin: I bet you think it’s serious. That crashed flying saucer has YOUR name on it. If mine was there, I’d consider it serious, too. Instead, I’m laughing.
Taubman: That’s what I’m trying to say, Woody. Look, it’s time to bury the hatchet.
Fralin: Hatchet, Nicky? Are you kidding? It’s more like a four-story trebuchet.
Taubman: You’re right, Woody. I was wrong to steal it out from under you, and stick my name on it. But you haven’t grasped the $16 million favor I did you.
Fralin: Favor? Nicky what are you smoking?
Taubman: It was a favor, Woody. Probably the biggest favor anyone has ever done for you. That thing is the ugliest, most out-of-place building in America. And I saved your name from going on it.
Fralin: (Long pause) OK. I see your point.
Taubman: Your museum up at UVa is nice and normal, without controversy, isn’t it?
Fralin: It’s classy. It’s brick. And it’s got white columns in front and all that stuff.
Taubman: That’s right. But Woody, where do you live?
Fralin: You know where, Nicky.
Taubman: Here in Roanoke, that’s right. Where there’s a struggling art museum WITHOUT your name on it. One that’s more expensive to maintain than 5,000 Maseratis.
Fralin: You want ideas? Move the Roanoke Weiner Stand in there. Cough up the $2,000 to get that guy who refitted their ancient bun warmers licensed. People will flock to the joint. You could open a chain and call it Advance Hot Dog Stores.
Taubman: No, Woody. I don’t need ideas. I want you. I need your juice to keep that thing with my name on it open. I’m putting Jenny back on the board, and . . .
Fralin: Jenny? Come on. She’s a wallflower. She’s way too shy.
Taubman: We want you on the board, too. We want to keep the thing open.
Fralin: What about Mickenberg, the director? He just bought a house.
Taubman: He’s history. He’s gone. Besides, he’s a Yankee. Who cares?
Fralin: Dagnabit, Nicky. I’ll do it! If I can save UVa, the least I can do is help save the Taubman Museum of Art and Failure.
Taubman: Cool it with that failure stuff, okay? You’re on the board now.
Fralin: All right, all right. Let’s go. Let’s rescue that thing.
Taubman: Attaboy, that’s the Woody I know and admire. I’m glad we’ve buried that hatchet.
Fralin: Trebuchet, Nicky. It was a four-story-tall trebuchet. And don’t you forget it.