I’m in a dream. I am the ghost of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, originally of Rhode Island. From 1874 till 1948, I lived as few ever will: the advantaged and indulged life of a filthy rich American socialite and philanthropist. You might not have heard of me, but you’re living in my legacy. You’ve most probably walked ‘round my hobby. I’m best remembered for setting up the renowned Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The children called it ‘Mother’s Museum’.
I didn’t ask to be born to such privilege but it sure was swell. And as tends to happen for those of us in the right circles, I doubled down on my birthright and wedded my family some more. Daddy was pleased. My husband, John D. Rockefeller Junior, was the only son of Oil Man John D. Rockefeller (Senior), better known as either the World’s Richest Man or the World’s Most Hated Man, depending to whom you converse. In my crowd it was the former.
My life story straddles plutocracies and oil barons, art museums and the art canon, the invention of both investigative journalism and Corporate Public Affairs, the New World Order, the CIA and its fostering of the careers of the Abstract Expressionists in fighting the rise of communism and the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It sounds like I’m bragging, but that’s an edited version of where my life took me. But I will begin with Daddy.
Daddy was a self made man who leveraged Mother’s family’s wealth, to become an esteemed Republican Senator. This was back when senators still had esteem. Daddy was a prominent Freemason too which was frightfully fun. The press-pack nicknamed Daddy General Manager of the Nation, which summed up his propensity for plans of action and getting his own way. Daddy was deeply enamoured with notions of fiscal responsibility, whatever that means. He would always be banging on about dominating tariff and monetary policy through his Senate Finance Committee and how his ‘Big Four’ Republican friends would set up the Federal Reserve Banking System. Daddy said that was the best way to look after all our money and Daddy was right.
My childhood was a cacophony of clam bakes, governesses and long days lounging on our private beach. I attended Miss Abbott’s School for Young Ladies, studying the subjects well-rounded socialites require to this day: English Literature, Art History, French, Gymnastics, Dance and a preparatory course in How to Hire and Fire the Help.
I debuted into proper society in 1893 and then Daddy insisted we round out my aesthetic education, with a Grand Tour of Europe. The trip, the first of so many, informed my future discriminatory tastes as an art collector of repute. The Europeans really do, do culture in a far more refined manner than our young United States.
On my return from Europe (and at the soiree of a darling mutual friend), I met my future husband. My wedding to John Junior in 1901 was the major society wedding of the Gilded Age and all that you’d expect of a union between politics and a monopoly. Held at Daddy’s summer estate, the wedding was a rather intimate affair with a thousand of our family’s closest friends and business partners. All the right (wing) people were in attendance, glittering in their finest regalia and exchanging business cards.
For the next 12 years I honoured my part of the bargain, by bearing 6 healthy children. The famed five Rockefeller Brothers are the basis of our six-generation strong Oil dynasty. We expanded into other business, philanthropic, banking, eugenics, real estate and New World Order concerns and our influence you endure to this day.
I insisted early on making the rule, no politics at the dinner table! But my boys could not help themselves, so excited were they to shape the modern world into the form of their desire. I couldn’t be more proud, though it hasn’t always been without its trials. Father-in-law was a much harder man to love than my Daddy, though everyone kept trying since he was richer than God. I do wish he wasn’t quite so like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.
It was back in 1904 that the family business Standard Oil, became embroiled in a public relations nightmare. Ida M. Tarbell was a working-class nobody, born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania who’d clearly never learned her proper place in society. Ida became the bane of my existence when she invented Investigative Journalism. She wrote a serialized version of America’s oil history for McClure’s Magazine and it did not bode well for my family. She threw words like ‘illegal monopoly’ round with scant regard for whom they could hurt. With each passing month, more and more people read her words, her Mudraking. Eventually even the politicians we’d bought had to pretend to do something. Ida got the public all fired up for change with sentences like this emotive bull-dust: ‘No industry of man in its early days has ever been more destructive of beauty, order, decency, than the production of petroleum.’ Ida M. Tarbell
Ida believed that the American dream had been corrupted by the interests of the few and that the story of Standard Oil was a cautionary tale for citizens then and into the future.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9UQxZXg1Uw 21mins (if you’re time poor watch from the 10mins mark)
Her words might have changed the consensus ‘round Father-in-laws business strategies, but when Roosevelt broke Standard Oil up it’s dissolution just made us richer. So go fool them! Standard Oil went on to become Chevron, ExxonMobil, Amoco and lots of other unregulated multi-national corporations too big to fail. Big polluters like us continue to lie and cheat, buy governments, dictate policy and encourage war to this day, but nobody does it quite as well as my family. It’s in our blood.
The only people who complain about monopolies are people who don’t own one. Monopolies are the best capitalist business model of all. Father-in-law said ‘competition is evil’, which was shrewd the way he aligned God with struggle. What people forget is once you’ve secured your monopoly there’s still much work to be done. We still had to kill electric car development. Then we had to thwart the development of ethanol as a fuel source (you think Prohibition was about saving the proletariat from drunkenness?). Next we partnered with like-minded companies (General Motors, Firestone, Mack Truck) and decimated the existing public transport system. The infrastructure for the trolleys and streetcars of bygone days were pulled up, forcing reliance on automobiles and diesel buses. We lobbied government for a heavy tax on train journeys, making it more expensive than the bus or driving. We made driving your very own car the cheapest, most desirable and chic transport option if you disregard climate change. Which we did and continue to do.
Business is just business and one simply must keep emotion out of it. There is no such thing as ‘clean money’.
Because of Ida M. Tarbell and her investigative journalism, Father-in-law had come to represent a lying, cheating tyrant with an aloof arrogance. Which of course he was, but he was also too rich to care. So we slowly had to teach him the lesson that Publics and their opinions matter to business and in the process we invented Corporate Public Relations. One simply must keep abreast of ones narratives.
We hired the best public relations thinker to recast John D. from tyrant to eccentric, benign old man. Senior appeared in early newsreel footage, handing out dimes to everyone he met to encourage thrift, which really is humorous: the World’s richest man encouraging frugality when he was robbing them blind. It worked a treat though because it tapped in to the magic of the moving image and the blue collared workers bought it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vbAlXF2Av0 2mins memorial.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_yUI_3yYiQ 6mins beginners guide to the Rockefellers.
My husband and I had to muck in and do our bit in helping put a new veneer on the family name too. Thus began our lifelong efforts to cleanse ourselves of the opprobrium stemming from the ruthless practices of Standard Oil. We worked to reinstate the influence of one of the world’s largest fortunes. Father-in-Law always said: ‘you must take before you give’ which is very simple maths. I’ve never known a man more accomplished at taking. It came to us to foster the illusion of giving.
The cheapest way to make new friends is to buy them, so that’s what we set about doing. John Junior’s philanthropy knew no bounds and my furry-checkbook wasn’t to be sneezed at either. We learned there are few things in life money can’t buy and a good reputation isn’t one of them. To this end my pet project of establishing MoMA was money well spent and came in well under budget.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRc-riqLG9A 2.49mins Here’s my Billionaire baby son David talking you through how I fostered his love of art
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0U0Te1MTCo Baby David, sharing his personal artworks with the world, bless. Can you believe he hung a Monet in the stairwell!
Initially, I set about shifting the public perception of the family by reshaping our social empire, connecting all the centers of power into a cosy network of cocooned wealth. I joined or founded a variety of New York’s most exclusive clubs: The Cosmopolitan Club, The Colony Club, The Women’s City Club, The National Society of Colonial Dames, The Women’s National Republican Club, The Society of Mayflower Descendants and The Garden Club of America. The thing my class enjoy most about Clubs, is that you don’t let everyone who wants to be a member of your club be a member of your club. Holding the aspirant nouveau riche at bay really is impossibly fun. It reminds me of Thackery, who so eloquently observed in ‘Vanity Fair’ (his novel not the magazine): ‘Of course it is the women who keep the doors of society closed. They do not like outsiders to discover that there is nothing behind them’.
Gradually my mind drifted back to my youthful passion: Art.
Next I set about focusing my attentions and formidable resources into setting up the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). My husband was skeptical of the Modernists and their new thinking, but I was convinced we needed to contain them. For me, a world famous art museum was the perfect location on which to expand and consolidate the plutocracy we’d all been working together to achieve.
I’ve always admired how art is afforded incredible esteem and prestige, when the great unwashed don’t understand what it even really is. Which is how we must keep it. At times even the experts don’t seem to have as solid a grasp of art as one might hope:
What is Art? Current MoMA Director Glenn D. Lowry attempts to explain (Sponsored by Volkswagon Clean Diesel anyone?)
Throwing some much needed benevolence ‘round the cultural landscape is the way to control it. Too many Bruce Springsteens getting through and goodness knows what could happen! Art Museums are places of worship where the congregation bows down before money and finance. That’s the reason art costs so much. If it were cheap it would undermine capitalism. When people become invested in art they’re also conceptually investing in capitalism. They just don’t know it.
I began collecting artworks by Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and all those other darling genius men. Finally, I was successful in bending my dear husband to my whim and we/he donated the prized New York real estate on which MoMA is built. The land was once the site of our family home. I instructed my first MoMA Director, Alfred H. Barr Jr to ratchet up the surface value of the collection through a series of simple manipulations: exhibitions and books and media and the like. We established that these works are the canon of excellence.
News of my interest and activity in art spread quickly and acquaintances from the NY elite club scene I’d helped found, quickly began art collections of their own. This really got under my skin, because Art had always been my thing. Couldn’t the other women come up with their own cultural ideas: build an Opera House, a Symphony Orchestra or a Ballet Company or the like?
Young try-hard Peggy Guggenheim was only successful in accruing such an esteemed art collection on her family dime, because Marcel Du Champ was her art advisor. They’d acquired her collection of his friends’ works just as the Nazis intensified the havoc they were wreaking round Europe. A sure way to procure a bargain price from an artist, is to purchase their work as they’re packing down their studio and fleeing a war zone for their life. World War 2 was very good business for our family too.
After the war, everyone was shit-scared Communism would become all the rage. The communist artist I’m most proud of having bought out early, was Diego Rivera. Poor Diego got kicked out of the American Communist Party for being a sell-out and accepting commissions from wealthy patrons like us and the Ford’s with their Detroit Industry mural. My son Nelson Rockefeller had Diego’s commission at the Roosevelt Building plastered over because it included a portrait of Lenin and a Soviet Russian May Day parade. Back in Mexico, Rivera repainted a variation and called it ‘Man, Controller of the Universe’. Anyway, this ruckus played well for Diego in the media and the Communists let him rejoin the party. Diego loved to party.
It’s a minefield, thinking through the relationships between politics and aesthetics and creative freedom and economic and political power, so it’s best if you don’t bother.
My son Nelson was President of MoMA during the 40’s and 50’s. Since his war days, Nelson had close ties with the US Intelligence Community. MoMA’s Executive Secretary at that time, Thomas Braden, he was a CIA man too. The CIA decided to get behind the Abstract Expressionists. America was a cultural backwater back then and that simply would not do in our fight against those bleeding Communists. We needed an art movement we could call our own, one that would unite the country and make us all feel proud. And that didn’t look like it was going to happen by itself, so we all pitched in and provided some help. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was used to front the CIA’s investment in taking that hodge-podge drunken group of misfit artists, the Abstract Expressionists, out into the world.
And there’s something deliciously ironic about that, isn’t there? The CIA fought communism by making communist painters wealthy (with capitalism). The abstract-expressionist movement, meant to reject ideology and politics, was used as an ideological hammer for political ends.
https://priceonomics.com/meet-the-patron-of-american-modern-art-the-cia/ (in Data we Trust)
My favorite son, I mean child, my baby David (1915-2017) took after me in that he too very much enjoyed fostering social networks through elite Clubs, but he called them ‘Policy Groups’. Really they’re the same diff: close friends sitting behind closed doors discussing how to best vest our shared interests. David became enamored with notions surrounding The New World Order and Global Strategic Power decisions and the establishment of The Deep State, but then he always was my little dreamer. On numerous occasions, David was offered the position of President of the United States of America, but he didn’t want to take the demotion.
Such was his commitment to influencing the course of world history, my Baby David established some very strategic networks: The Bilderberg Group, The Trilateral Commission, The Council of the Americas, the International Executive Service Corps and The Council on Foreign Relations. The CFR is like a school for Statesman: it’s another organ of the power elite where a group of men, similar in interest and outlook, shape events from invulnerable positions behind the scenes. But now I’m just sounding like a Mother bragging about the achievements of her favorite son. I mean child.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbFMnrPbAmU 16.38mins. Who attended Bilderberg 2017 and what they discussed.
But it wasn’t always easy for poor David. There was that terrible mess when he and his best pal Henry Kissinger persuaded Jimmy Carter and the US Department of State to admit the Shah of Iran into the US for ‘health treatment’. Of course, this all played out like several episodes from House of Cards and precipitated the Iranian Hostage Crisis. That was the end for poor Jimmy. The media of course are always sitting ‘round waiting to cast stones at successful people and they took this opportunity to get all up in poor David’s grille. I always warned the children: ‘don’t be listening to haters, they always be hating. It’s their jealousy speaking’. Well David felt himself to be completely exposed and he never did handle criticism especially well. But it was worth it to do Jimmy Carter in. He’d been spruiking ‘car pooling’ and ‘global warming’ to the nation. What did he expect from the fossil fuel sector? Tensions between the US and Iran continue to this day, which is good for when we next need to stimulate the economy with another war.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkfpi2H8tOE 8.27 mins. Laurie Anderson O Superman, Laurie’s response to the botched attempt to get the hostages out. She’s talking to our Rockefeller power but most people miss that bit. She’s written a song for us bless.
‘Hold me Mom in your long arms, your petrochemical arms, your military arms’.
So that dear friends, is a brief history of how and why I came to set up the famed Museum of Modern Art. My children called it Mother’s Museum. I was a simple woman who wanted to give something back to you all. They’ve named a garden there after me. I hope you enjoy it. It really did cost you all an awful lot, but look there at the pretty pictures. Aren’t they grand…..