Loebl (America’s Art Museums: A Traveler’s Guide to Great Collections Large and Small, 2002, etc.) celebrates the myriad contributions of generations of Rockefellers to the public enjoyment of art.
The author focuses on the fortune of the Rockefellers and how they chose to dispose of much of it, but she offers very little criticism or analysis. Instead, she provides a simple chronology of the family’s rise and their major collections and endowments, with a final chapter on their smaller legacies. There is no gainsaying the significance of the Rockefellers to the cultural life of the country. Rockefeller Center, MoMA, the Cloisters, Colonial Williamsburg and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum of American Folk Art, Lincoln Center, the Nelson Rockefeller Empire State Mall—these are colossal gifts to the country. Loebl also looks at endowments to Dartmouth, Vassar, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and numerous others. The author’s strategy in each chapter is fairly fixed: some background on the relevant Rockefellers involved in the endowment, a construction history of the building(s), a few quick comments about the prominent pieces on display and some gushy prose about how gorgeous it is. Loebl confesses at the end that she began to feel like a member of the family—perhaps too much so. Hers may be the only published account of the death of Nelson Rockefeller, for example, that neglects to mention the Megan Marshack controversy, and the author becomes so accustomed to writing about enormous gifts and acquisitions that she notes without irony that circumspect John D. Rockefeller III limited himself to “only” $1-$1.5 million per year in art purchases. Loebl also characterizes as mere “string-pulling” the maneuvering that enabled Chase to acquire Lower Manhattan land for its skyscraper.
The Rockefeller family’s contributions to American culture are unquestioned, but this book veers too close to panegyric.