Now (silly me), with the minuscule bit of knowledge I have about the current art world, I assumed that these portraits must be ironic or implicitly critical in some way. Sort of like Marge Simpson's portrait of the nude, shriveled Mr. Burns. This description of the work, "Working from photographs she found online and in newspapers and magazines, Ms. Crowe produced colorful, whimsical canvasses that highlighted Mr. Greenspan's wrinkled forehead, pursed lips, droopy ears, hand gestures and oversize glasses" seemed to bear that out. The purchasers would be, I assumed, liberal art world Brooklyn-dwelling hipster cognoscenti, displaying the portraits prominently in brownstones with a big wink.
But, um, no.
In Washington, Kevin Dolan, a former senior vice president of Merrill Lynch, bought his painting for $3,000. He decided to donate it to a charity auction that took place on the firm's trading floor in December 2006. It went for nearly double the price, he recalls.Wow. I mean, I sort of thought the portrait days were over. If one still were inclined to hang a portrait unironically in one's home, it might someone considered morally admirable (MLK, pope, whomever). But Alan Greenspan?! I understand (and agree) that what financiers do is necessary for everyone's current standard of living. But is the architect of Federal financial policy worthy of the hushed awe of an admiring portrait?
He doesn't believe that would happen now, saying he is relieved that he donated his painting to charity when Mr. Greenspan "was still a god."
Dallas hedge-fund manager David Norcom still has his Greenspan, which he purchased for $3,000 when the Fed chairman's reputation was sterling. "There is not one person who comes to my office that doesn't talk about it," says Mr. Norcom. "When Greenspan was more admired, people walked in, looked at him and made positive comments about him," says Mr. Norcom. These days, the comments are more acerbic.
And it seems as if the artist did not intend to be making an ironic statement either, but rather, remuneratively scoring off financiers' self-love.
"I rode those paintings as far as you can imagine, so how can I complain?" she says.
Ms. Crowe hasn't abandoned her niche in the art world, and has now turned her attention to the current Federal Reserve chief, Ben Bernanke.
"It is a fresh face, it didn't have so many wrinkles, it felt baby-like," she says. She hopes to put together a Bernanke show.
But the new Fed chairman's market value can't compare with Mr. Greenspan's at his peak. One patron who had paid Ms. Crowe $10,000 for a Greenspan asked her to paint Mr. Bernanke. But he only wanted to pay her $5,000, she says.
"I thought, 'Yikes,' " Ms. Crowe says. "That is a hefty pay cut."