CRIES AND WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
4 TO NEW YORK, to see the future of arts sponsorship. The Guggenheim, probably the best-looking modern-art museum in the world, is embarking on a relationship with a sponsor that goes well beyond the usual one-show stand.

Thomas Krens, the museum's director, invites me and no more than 100 other hacks to breakfast. He makes a speech about ideas, creativity and farsightedness. He's not talking about an artist. He is talking about Hugo Boss. Yes, the Guggenheim's new beau is the German outfitter whose suits make bankers look like Masters of the Universe.

The sponsorship is not just about money. That would be too Eighties, even for Boss. The contract will run for an unprecedented five years. It's all very New Age. The talk is of friendship and openness. The talk is of talk.

Sponsoring exhibitions does come into it - two or three a year - but there's more: educational programmes, developments in new media, an annual prize for young artists. In general, Boss will pick what suits its new image, which is a bit less competitive and more existential - goodbye city-slicker, hello rus in urbe.

I listened to this with mixed feelings. One of the great things about art is that it's not corporate. Hughes' Law of Sponsorship states that what the sponsor gains in prestige, the sponsee loses. Then I got talking to Peter Littmann, boss of Boss. "If you don't have an established long- term relationship," he said, "it's just money. And money is anonymous. Then you wonder, who was that sponsor? Was it British Airways? Philip Morris? You don't remember."

So far, so shareholder-friendly. But Dr Littmann goes on. He used to run a textile firm. He got Hockney and Lichtenstein to design carpets. "There was a side-effect I was not expecting. Ordinary people in the company who didn't know who Hockney was started reading books about art. Going to see shows."

So now Boss's HQ near Stuttgart will have a Guggenheim Library. Again, Littmann's motive is both pure and impure. He wants his staff to enjoy art for art's sake. But also for business's sake. "Artists are always asking, always won- dering. This kind of insecurity is healthy, it gives you the power to be creative."

By the standards of the companies I have worked for, this is visionary stuff. There's only one snag. The first show Boss has backed isn't very good. It's paintings by Ross Bleckner, some figurative, some decorative, all (to my untutored eye) indecisive - a bit of this, a bit of that, with no clear voice. Often at exhibitions I think, great show, shame it had to be sponsored. Here I thought, great sponsor, shame there had to be a show.

4 MARTIN AMIS is everywhere at the moment. To find out how good his new book is, turn to page 36. For more important questions, stay here. One: what have his new publishers, HarperCollins, done to his jacket design? Amis is nothing if not modern. The cover of The Information is antique: parchmenty paper, stately serif type, and a little etching of a manual typewriter, of all things. Two: why is the book's central character, a failed writer, called Richard Tull, when in the extract that Granta ran last year his name was Richard Royce? Three: what do we learn about Amis from the bookshelf in his flat, visible behind Melvyn Bragg during their South Bank Show interview? Not much, at first glance: a predictable mixture of friends (Clive James, Bill Buford), heroes (Nabokov) and other giants (Eliot). But lurking among them was a book by Philip Kerr. What was a middle-ranking thriller writer doing on a shelf like that? Then it clicked. Kerr has just sold a book to Hollywood for $1m. As Bagehot said, "The purse strings tie us to our kind".

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