We Pitt people, and especially us Pitt football fans, just became familiar with a Pitt alumni name when Steve and Kathy Guttman casually dropped a cool $2,000,000 into the Pitt Football Championship Fund.
“Finally!” we all cried “here is a donation that will start the financial donation ball rolling”. And it well might do so, or at least let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Steve Guttman was a 1968 graduate of Pitt and then went on to complete his law degree at George Washington. He wasn’t raised in one of Pittsburgh’s arty families, of which there were many back in the ’60s:
Steven Guttman fell in love with art at the heels of a hound. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, in a modest family, and we had no art in our house,” says the 68-year-old collector at his Greenwich Village town house.
The founder of Storage Deluxe Management Corp. and former CEO of the Federal Realty Investment Trust, Guttman is surrounded by hundreds of paintings, sculptures and furniture created by some of the world’s most desired artists. Along with his wife, Kathy, he has amassed one of the nation’s foremost collections of American folk and contemporary art, but he still remembers when he was a blank canvas.
“No one in my family had ever really been exposed to art,” Guttman says.
We’ll get back to the Guttmans in a moment but I think it is safe to say most Pitt fans had never heard of or knew Steve Guttman before yesterday unless you may have been a childhood friend or attended Pitt in the same years he did.
But very few of us also had even heard of the Pitt Football Championship Fund or “The Quest For Ten” as it is known in the athletic department.
It is a rather new tiered giving program that awards different levels of recognition and athletic department access based on different levels of financial giving as shown here:
Funny that they don’t recognize the ink and publicity the football team gets for being the subject of this successful Blog! But the Championship Fund is a good thing and now it is doing a great job in gathering money to sustain the football program’s quest for excellence.
I do like the fact that the three of the four target areas for the donations use are outside the actually workings of the team itself. The four are; the student-athlete experience, facilities, recruiting and advancing technology. Really, only recruiting has a direct impact on the roster and the team’s on-field performance per se. The other three contribute to the student-athlete’s life outside the chalk lines. “Facilities” can also mean the tutoring areas, study halls and offices for those athletic department personnel who have direct input into the players’ student side of the student/athlete equation.
But as soon as I read the Guttmans’ donation press release something began nagging at me. I am a follower of the Fine Arts in many forms but paintings and sculptures are my true love. My wife and I collect some nice artwork (mostly local artists) but we will spend a penny or three to get what we want from the national fine art market also.
I read, watch, talk about and dive into any arts related things I can find time to do so and it has become a real and fun hobby of mine over the years. Because of that interest I started to remember why the name “Steve Guttman” was familiar to me.
I had read a Forbes magazine article a few years ago about the Guttman couple and their extensive art collection. So extensive that it needed a home of its own…
The article described how their art collection had overrun their living space so they put their professional lives in concert with their cultural lives and began thinking about the need for valuable fine art storage spaces.
That cramping generated their belief that there should be safe and accessible places for non-displayed art so they created OUVO art storage buildings and with that earned not only a place in the forefront of well-rounded collectors in the art market itself, but also a (big) place in the world of where the art goes after it is purchased for those outrageous amounts… and yes, even the high end art dealers think the auction prices these days are ridiculous.
It was a stroke of genius in that there is a dirty little secret in the art market and that is that a majority of the Big Whale art buyers don’t give a damn about the actual art itself. They either want ownership of a rare piece to be able to gloat and practice snobbery upsmanship over other collectors or they buy it as a commodity to be sold at a later date when the profit margin is at its highest.
Either way they have to keep that piece in bought, or restored, condition and not have to worry about deterioration, destruction or, even worse for them, theft.
That gloating is actually a standardized practice in the art world now – Guttman’s OUVO storage buildings have a series of “Viewing Rooms” specifically for that purpose.
Owners can arranged a dinner or cocktail party in one of the viewing rooms and have their art they want others to see on a limited basis right there on the pristine white walls.
Then when the party is finished the art is re-stored and the room is cleared out and they can go back to being quietly snobby.
So storing that art is akin to what owners would do with a tomb full of gold or silver they suddenly found; either donate it to a museum and take a 100%-200% (or more if the museum Chairman is a friend) over value appraisal for tax purposes or… put it in climate controlled, ultra-secure storage.
The Guttmans realized this and even took account of natural disasters which might occur and set in place strong precautions against that, which is a realtivly new concern but a big one especially now since the vast flooding of basement storage areas in Manhattan caused by Hurricane Sandy not too long ago. Of course earthquake prone areas need their storage areas also.
What all that security also does is drive the owner’s insurance premiums way down and puts the onus for keep the art safe in Guttman’s hands. Burglars, art terrorists, natural disasters are a few of the things art collectors have to worry about – the professional storage of those items takes that care away. Personally I have to worry about stubbing my toe on a sculpture that is considered so ugly by the plebeians I live with that it has been consigned by them to my den where it can’t be seen by visitors. I paid a good $58 for that!
But let’s say those big-ticket buyers do donate that wondrous piece to a museum. Do you think it is going to be seen by the public? Think again. Most of the bigger museums show only a small fraction of their holdings and keep everything not on rotating display in deep storage.
They do that because those over-inflated value art donations compromise the bulk of what the museum will sell-off in a de-accessioning move (paring down the collection instead of building the collection) to generate cash to either pay off institutional debt or purchase truly outstanding pieces currently on the market.
The chart to the left is just a small sampling of the ‘hidden art’ that museums hold and shows only the artists that are so mega-famous they are almost household names. Multiply that buy thousands to account for hidden art from lesser know artists and you can see why the art storage business thrives.
That is what Steve Guttman, from small town Pittsburgh, PA, did to make his millions and thank goodness for that. Without the crazy art market and the ego-driven idiots who pay way too much for things I can do in my garage we wouldn’t have had that $2M dropped into Pitt’s collective laps this week.
I do hope this generates interest to others who have the financial wherewithal to make big contributions toward athletics. This one was specifically for the football program so it will be more visible than some others but rest assured that all monies are welcomed by the university in general and the athletic department in particular.
Here is my favorite piece of the Guttman’s collection that I could find images of… “Tango Vagabando” by Matthias Bitzer:
Fellow Pitt fans… Here’s what I’ll do. I’m going downstairs now to threaten to move my ‘ugly’ sculpture into our living room. I’ll insist on it being in a place of honor.
Then I’ll extort $50 from my wife to move it back to my den, and believe me she will pay up as she absolutely hates it. Then I’ll donate that $50 to the Football Championship Fund as soon as she pays me off.
Underhanded? Yes. Good cause? Also yes.
I’ll do that and as of now I’m challenge Pitt fans far and wide to donate what they can to the Fund also.
How’s that for fund-raising?