The son of a Greek shepherd who moved to New York City and opened a flower store, Mr. Lois grew up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx and came to art through the kind intervention of a teacher who saved his drawings for a portfolio so he could transfer to the High School of Music and Art—a Bauhaus-inspired school that he calls “the greatest institution of learning since Alexander sat at the feet of Aristotle.” Mr. Lois went from there to Pratt, where on the first day he met his future wife, Rosie. With her by his side, he swiftly worked his way up the ladder in the ad industry—and their close marriage is yet another reason he objects to Mad Men, which he says portrays a culture of pervasive philandering that simply didn’t exist, in his experience at least.
Last month, Mr. Lois had a chance to meet the creators of the show when Tina Brown invited him to a Newsweek/Daily Beast Mad Men party. He recalled that Matthew Weiner told him, “You don’t know how much you mean to our show!” and that Jon Hamm “ran after me and said, ‘This is the most thrilling night of my life.’ And when I went away I was wondering, ‘Is that because you just met somebody you’re kind of supposed to be depicting, except that I’m talented?”
Nowadays, Mr. Lois mainly lectures and works on book projects with his son, Luke. Occasionally he still gets tapped by magazine editors for advice, such as when, some years back, David Remnick asked him if he should just give in and use a photograph for a New Yorker cover (“I said, ‘What are you, fucking crazy?’”). Walking through the African art displays, he pointed out more works that were once in his collection—“this was in my living room,” he said of one towering 19th-century Central New Ireland uli statue—and marveled at others, like carved wooden skull hooks from New Guinea that he calls “a masterpiece.” His own holdings have proven useful financially over the years. “When I needed money for business reasons I was able to sell off a piece,” he says. “I sold one that’s here for $300,000, and I was able to buy my son an apartment.” Most Sundays, Mr. Lois spends an hour and a quarter walking around the museum, and then heads to the bookstore. “You always walk out and say, ‘That was fun,’” he says. Then he goes home to watch Mad Men, and remember when he was handsomer than Don Draper.
Andrew M. Goldstein is the editor-in-chief of Artspace.com