Monthly Archives: March 2015

Serf’s Up

Cinderella

Cinderella

“Mommy, is that her?” said the little girl sitting behind me at the Sunday matinee of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Yes, dearie, that’s her, flaxen hair, peachy skin, and kindness to burn.

It’s a fine film—Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter are especially good. It’s often said that “no good deed goes unpunished”. Cinderella toils for her evil stepmother and stepsisters, doing everyday menial tasks that go unnoticed and unappreciated. The story ends well, a fine marriage to the handsome Prince. It’s a lovely tale, free of irony, reassuring us that, if only we have patience (and courage and kindness), life will treat us fairly.

Um…maybe that’s how it works in theory but, as Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” In the real world there’s a gender divide when it comes to the value placed on “communal” behavior. Not surprisingly, at work and at home, women, like our heroine Cinderella, are expected to be nurturing and self-sacrificing. It’s simply assumed that we live to serve others, anticipating their needs and rushing in to help.

A recent study asked participants to evaluate the performance of employees who offered to stay late to help a colleague prepare for an important meeting. When a man volunteered, he was rated 14 percent higher than a woman. If they both declined, the woman was rated 12 percent lower than the man. Saying ‘no’ meant the man was “busy”, whereas  the same response from the woman meant she was “selfish”. Women had to give extra help just to get the same rating as a man.

This is the “office housework” that’s expected of women, whether she’s the receptionist who also bakes cupcakes for staff, or the manager who is expected to be the “office mommy”, placing her staff’s needs over her own. It’s no wonder that in an analysis of 183 different studies in 15 countries and multiple occupations, women were more likely to report feeling emotionally exhausted. (Where’s that handsome Prince when you need him?)

When I worked as the editor-in-chief at ELLE, I saw this play out all the time. Staff wanted to transplant their family dynamics into the office. At one editorial meeting our copy editor even said, “I know we’re supposed to be a family here…” Having no intention of being the “office mommy” (either benevolent or evil), I privately choose the role of “big sister” based on the assumption it would be the least emotionally draining.  At the time, I wondered if male managers had a similar dual role.

“Office housework” is a huge hidden drain on women’s productivity. As much as policies on child-care costs, maternity rights, access to higher education, and pay lift the glass ceiling, societal changes in expectations on women’s behavior are also necessary. Much progress has already been made. For example, women’s enrolment in higher education is almost twice that of men, although their return-on-investment is typically lower than men’s. As a group women are better qualified than men, yet earn three-quarters as much. Part of this may be attributed to different areas of specialization. Women dominate education, social work and the humanities, whereas men choose higher-paying professions in computer science and engineering. Still, the traditional definition of gender behaviors likely also plays a part. (And, by the way, don’t you wonder that if men dominated social work it would pay a lot better?) After all, you can’t consistently give your all at work if you’re expected to be the “office mommy”—and that’s not even counting the third shift at home.

So while I’m a fan of Branagh’s Cinderella, we don’t all live in Disneyland. Sometimes saying ‘no’ takes even more courage and kindness (to oneself).

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Courtesy of qthomasbower

Courtesy of qthomasbower


Celebrities and social climbers collect Warhol but what did Warhol collect?

“Keep the coffee tins—aluminum might go up!”

“Keep the batteries—copper might go up!”

According to Bob Colacello who worked with Warhol as the editor of Interview magazine and as his unofficial sales agent, “Warhol was not a collector; he was a hoarder.”

Back then a Warhol portrait started at $25,000. The key was to lure socialites to commission them. Trouble was, Warhol was not a social success. Cue Colacello who was a right charmer. “Pretty society women wanted their portraits done but it was their stockbroker/private equity husbands who were going to pay, so Andy would tell me to play up my Republican side,” says Colacello.

It was society “walker” Jerome Zipkin who amped Warhol’s fortunes. He gave subscriptions to Interview to all of his ladies—party circuit regulars like Betsey Bloomingdale, Nan Kempner, and Carolyn Roehm. The magazine had switched from covering film criticism to doing Q&As with famous people. Society types tripped over each other to land on the magazine’s cover. Colacello pocketed a small commission for each portrait he sold. Once, when a client paid for her’s with a large, uncut Colombian emerald, instead of cash, Warhol offered Colacello his own portrait. “He told me he knocked $3,000 of the price,” says Colacello.

Despite Warhol’s tightfistedness, Colacello managed to amass a small collection of his work. “I wish I hadn’t sold because it kept going up in value. Still, it did buy a place in East Hampton.”

Today, buying a Warhol is like buying shares in Microsoft. Solid, not sexy. But that’s where the similarities end. Art investing is a high-stakes game. Many people think they can clean up but survivorship bias distorts market returns. For every Frank Auerbach painting bought for $1.1 million in 2005 and sold for $2.3 million in 2006, there are hundreds of artists whose careers die a silent death. We only ever hear about the winners.

Unlike the major stock markets, the art market is insular and lacks transparency. Amazon and eBay may sell fancy pictures but the real deals are made privately. Price manipulation is the name of the game because dealers are expected to nurture artists’ careers. To do so, collectors are discouraged from selling works in the open market, and if they do so, gallery owners will bid up prices to keep the mystique alive. Because buying art is aspirational, not selling at auction could be career-ending for an artist.

Liquidity is another issue. Even more than in real estate, sometimes there’s absolutely no demand for a work of art. Like other ‘alternative’ investments such as hedge funds, returns from art are all over the map. However, due to high transaction and commission costs, realistic net returns over a 5-year holding period hover between 1%-5%. Not great shakes.

So why invest in art? Well, it’s pretty. What you lose in financial return you potentially gain in everyday pleasure. It’s doubtful that gazing at your investment statement provides the same spiritual uplift. Being an art collector also raises your social capital. There are art openings, cocktail parties, meet-the-artist powwows and so forth. It’s a special club—particularly at the upper echelons—that provides a global passport to hobnobbing.

But if the art market is a little too rich for you, then follow Warhol and invest in physical commodities. Aluminum, copper, iron…demand is bound to pick up one day.