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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

The Art of Controversy

I just wanted to hang a picture. I have a lovely – if rather large – painting of a Greek village. It had been painted by Louis Orozco, a Mexican artist whom my father had met in Greece in the 1960s and who had sold my dad a number of paintings. After my father died in 2009, I inherited the painting. 

That brings us to my 21-unit co-op, a non-elevator building on the Upper West Side. My father had actually found the place in 1987, and I bought a small two-bedroom unit that year. I became president of the co-op board then and have served (with one three-year hiatus) ever since.

Cut to the present: I was looking at the Orozco painting, then I looked at the white wall on my landing, and I  thought, “That painting would fit perfectly in that spot.” Some years ago, we had an artist on the fifth floor and, after consulting with her neighbors, she hung one of her paintings on the fifth-floor landing; someone did the same on the sixth-floor landing.

I decided to suggest it to the board. I sent an email to my six fellow board members, saying: “I think this is a good idea to liven up the landings. The board can give permission to residents on each floor to choose among themselves if they want to put something up. What do you think?”

The response was fairly positive. “Sounds like a good idea to me,” wrote one member. “Good by me,” wrote another one. “Approved,” said a third. If you included my vote, that made four “ayes” out of seven. That was a majority. 

There are three other apartments on my floor. At that time, one was vacant (it was up for sale); another was the property of an actress who was away for a lengthy period of time on a national tour; and the third unit was owned by a woman who gave me her approval. I may have acted a bit hastily – I could have waited until the actress had returned, I suppose, and the empty unit had been sold – but I was eager to share my inheritance with the world. 

So I hung my Louis Orozco painting on the landing’s wall. 

Personal taste being what it is, the picture resulted in a new email. “I really don’t think this is a good idea, since the stairways are common areas that are shared by all residents,” wrote a board member who hadn’t responded to my original email. “And art really depends on personal taste. Even if residents from a floor approve, other residents will be viewing that artwork every time they climb the stairs. If we allow each floor to decide on different kinds of artwork, this could become a serious aesthetic mess.” He then went on to lambaste my actions – referring to me (as though we were in debate on the Senate floor) as “the shareholder in 3B.” What happened to calling me his neighbor, Tom? 

As if that email weren’t enough, the objecting shareholder phoned me. In irritatingly dry tones, he lectured me on what I had “done” – as if I had spray-painted graffiti on his door. I pointed out that a majority of the board had approved my suggestion – and even he had not objected to it when I had run into him in the hallway. 

“That was before you hung the painting,” he replied. So, in the end, it was all a question of personal taste. A majority had approved, but a forceful minority could still object and call for a discussion to consider consequences they had never considered before. My painting came down – and a discussion  was slated for a future meeting.

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