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Connoisseur Takes Culture Trip Out West

February 13, 1987|BILL STEIGERWALD

It must be official. California--"lush, ambitious, smug, quirky, sophisticated and proud"--is no longer culturally deprived.

That's the verdict reached by super-glossy Connoisseur magazine of New York City in its current let's-inspect-California-culture issue. In fact, editor Thomas Hoving says that thanks to new jewels like Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, the Golden State "now outshines the eastern seaboard in creating and collecting contemporary painting and sculpture."

Hoving calls diversely beautiful California the France of the United States--"fecund, sophisticated, opinionated, quirky at times . . . caught in its own chauvinistic dreams"--before leading a handsomely illustrated Grand Tour of the state's wealth of art museums. Pasadena takes top museum honors: Hoving pronounces the Huntington Library and Art Gallery second only to the gem-stuffed Norton Simon, which is No. 1 thanks to its namesake, "one of the greatest collectors in American history."

Connoisseur's stash of lavish color photos competes for attention with equally lush full-page ads soliciting things very few people can afford: portraits by commission (fee: $18,900) and Aston Martin Lagondas (Price: $167,000, but 1987 U.S. sales are limited to 25). Also included: a beautiful spread on California's home-grown artists, "The Sunshine Boys"; a sharp profile of Beverly Hills new-music patron Betty Freeman, whose quiet generosity has been benefitting musical avant-gardists like Philip Glass for 25 years; and a survey of the life styles of San Joaquin Valley agribarons.

Arms for Sale

"The arms trade isn't that risky or dangerous," Sam Cummings, one of the world's largest sellers of grenade launchers and machine guns, tells Ann Reilly Dowd in Fortune. It's hard to argue with Cummings after reading Dowd's excellent who's-who and what's-what of America's small-arms peddling business.

As Dowd reports, though international sales of big-ticket items such as tanks and F-15s are slumping, the bayonet and bullet salesmen are doing well meeting the needs of armies from Nicaragua to Iraq in a market where moral squeamishness hardly exists.

There are upsides and downsides, clandestine stuff, and prison terms for the greedy who stray into the patently illegal "black" markets, such as Iran, where the biggest profits lurk. But Michael Kotkin of Los Angeles, for example, who's seen photographed smiling serenely and flanked by mortars and machine guns at his L.A. arms shoppe, makes a nice living selling things like RPK light machine guns at $600 a pop, retail.

He's got 16,000 items on inventory, including 25-million rounds of ammunition. He barters guns for coffee, offers his own financing and denies the accusation of an unnamed competitor that he does a lot of work for the CIA, which is apparently the worst insult one arms dealer can make to another. Kotkin's annual sales: $40 million and growing 20% a year. As a dealer says, "This is one business you can't learn in school."

Wynton Marsalis' Hot Lip

GQ has dreamy Mel Gibson on its cover, but, as usual, there's lots of hot stuff inside too, including a photo spread on the Most Eligible Women in America "who have everything but mates" and a scary talk with three respected but ultra-bearish Wall Street forecasters who see the Crash of 1989 coming.

The most heat, though, is generated by Bruce Buschel's encounter with the unmuted anger of jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, whose precocious virtuosity has won many fans, critical acclaim, commercial success, and four jazz and two classical Grammys.

Just 25, Marsalis is a crusading purist who believes "Jazz is a higher form of development of human richness and complexity." He's made enemies by derogating classical musicians: "Concert musicians are artisans--jazz musicians are artists. It's 5,000 times harder to play correct jazz." And his opinions of rock 'n' roll are equally low: He stopped talking to his sax-playing brother and former band-mate Branford for a year after he committed the sin of going off to play for pop singer Sting.

But even sacred jazz giants like Miles Davis aren't spared Marsalis' sharp lip. Davis is no longer playing jazz, Marsalis says: "He's a charlatan" who's "now sad." Says Buschel: "Marsalis is relentlessly bitter toward Miles, rarely passing up an opportunity to deride him as the personification of everything gone wrong with jazz." Buschel writes excellently, doesn't take sides and gets Marsalis to respond to the criticism that his playing--the polar opposite of Davis' cool--is all technique and no soul.

New York Rent Control

The many idiocies and inequities created by 40 years of rent control policies in New York City are detailed in all their horror by William Tucker in the American Spectator.

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