Bloomberg Walks on Wild Side With Whitney’s Warhol Show

In the summer of 1966, while Andy Warhol was corrupting America’s youth in his silver-lined Factory, Michael Bloomberg, fresh out of Harvard Business School, was counting securities in his underwear in the un-air-conditioned “cage” at Salomon Brothers, where he racked up 16-hour days. Although the two men lived near each other on the Upper East Side, they never met. “It was not my social scene,” said Mr. Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg L.P., the billion-dollar financial news business. “We probably would not have had very much in common,” he said. Mr. Bloomberg, who collects art, does not own a single Warhol work. “A lot of Warhol’s stuff I’m not sure that I like,” he admitted.

Which is kind of funny, because when Anne Sutherland Fuchs needed to find a sponsor for the Whitney Museum of American Art’s big fall Warhol exhibit-fast-the first person she thought of was Mr. Bloomberg. Ms. Fuchs, an executive at Hearst Magazines, co-chaired the Whitney’s annual fund-raiser on Nov. 6, which coincided with the opening of The Warhol Look: Glamour, Style, Fashion , an exhibition of paintings, clothes, photographs and ephemera relating to the late Pop artist. She said that she met Warhol once, back when she was the publisher of Vogue , and that in going after Mr. Bloomberg, her thinking was about “the concept of Andy Warhol,” not the reality of the bewigged phenomenon. “When I thought of Andy Warhol,” she said, “it was clear to me that Mike Bloomberg, and what he has achieved with Bloomberg News, was a wonderful partner.”

The postmodern concept of Mike Bloomberg as the Andy Warhol of the 90’s was initially difficult even for David Ross, the Whitney’s ebullient director, to grasp. “But will he support this show?” he asked when Ms. Fuchs floated Mr. Bloomberg’s name in a meeting in September. Like most museum directors, Mr. Ross has a difficult time finding corporate sponsors for his shows these days. Gianni Versace had been lined up to underwrite the expenses of this show, but Mr. Ross did not pursue his company’s backing after the fashion designer was gunned down in Miami in July. According to Mr. Ross, Ms. Fuchs made quite a pitch for Mr. Bloomberg and his company. “Bloomberg is not who you think they are,” he remembers her saying. “They are a company that is looking for business on a broad level … they are looking at the communications business, show business, fashion business.”

Well, after all, Mr. Ross thought, it was Warhol who said that business was the art of the 80’s. Since 1995, when Mr. Bloomberg gave $55 million to Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater, he has been on a lot of people’s short lists for donors. This summer, he was named to the board of directors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art-an honor that has eluded the grasp of John Gutfreund, his mentor at Salomon Brothers, who hired Mr. Bloomberg in 1966 and fired him in 1981. And Mr. Bloomberg financed part of the cost of the Keith Haring sculptures that the Public Arts Fund displayed on the Park Avenue median strips this summer. But The Warhol Look is the first museum exhibition that Mr. Bloomberg has underwritten.

“We both like the media,” Mr. Bloomberg said of himself and Warhol, finding that some parallels do exist between them. “I like people who look at things in a different way, who aren’t constrained by the way it has always been done. I was once quoted on the cover of Forbes as saying that a new guy can do it better. He was a new guy. He looked at some of these subjects and art and had a different interpretation.”

Ms. Fuchs was able to convince Mr. Bloomberg to underwrite the show when she made it clear that there would be a palpable tie-in. “There is a tie-in,” said Mr. Bloomberg, pleased that he has gotten some bang for his buck. The tie-in is that the museum has installed Bloomberg video monitors inside the building and a giant screen on the outside for the opening. “What we did was take the format of our television program, which has this multiscreen thing, and convert it into a Warhol screen,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “There is traditional television in one place, quotes from him in another, little pictures in another, and it sort of jumps around. Lots of different Warhol things. It is not Bloomberg News, but it looks like it. It is Warhol News.”

Mr. Bloomberg was quick to give Ms. Fuchs and Patti Harris, his philanthropy liaison, credit for having convinced him to lend his support to the exhibition, which he was guided through by Mr. Ross. “This is not an example of an Andy groupie doing his duty,” Mr. Ross said. “This is somebody who sees Warhol as a master media manipulator, like himself.”

“I think it will be fun,” Mr. Bloomberg said of his first Whitney fund-raising gala, falling into the Warholian habit of referring to everything he does as “fun.” He also had a Warholian, self-deprecating approach to his own appearance. “I’m 5 feet 10 inches, with short brown hair, nondescript-looking,” he said after he offered to meet a writer at the fund-raising gala. “I’ll be one of the guys in tuxedos.”

“This is all about celebrating Andy Warhol in 1997,” Ms. Fuchs said. “I think Andy himself would have loved what we have done to him.” As Andy would say, Gee, sure.

Bloomberg Walks on Wild Side With Whitney’s Warhol Show