Callum Borchers in The Washington Post. I'm drawing heavily on Borchers's account here.
In brief, Trump Tower replaced a Bonwit Teller department story, a prime art deco building that had opened two weeks before the 1929 market crash. The store had two art-deco bas-reliefs of nude dancers and an ornate nickel-plated bronze grille. The Metropolitan Museum wanted these pieces for its permanent collection. Trump promised to donate them to the museum, provided it was practical to remove them. A Met patron agreed to help defray the cost of removal. But on June 5, 1980, the sculptures were jackhammered on Trump's order. He acted without informing the museum.
"John Barron" was a fake name that Trump used in speaking to the media by phone. He pretended to be an employee rather than himself. (Trump admitted the deception in 1990, and in 2006 he named his third son Barron.)
A Met spokesman, Ashton Hawkins—an actual person and VP of the board of trustees—insisted on the Bonwit Teller sculptures' value, artistic and economic (put at $200,000). That made Trump's decision look like not the smartest business move.
“Donald J. Trump said last night that he had ordered the destruction of two Art Deco bas-relief sculptures on the Bonwit Teller Building last week because their removal could have cost more than $500,000 in taxes, demolition delays and other expenses, and might have endangered passing pedestrians on Fifth Avenue.
“‘My biggest concern was the safety of people on the street below,’ said the 33-year-old developer, who contended that cranes, scaffolding and the most careful handling could not have assured the safe removal of the cracked and weathered two-ton limestone panels from high on the building’s facade.
“‘ If one of those stones had slipped,’ he said, ‘people could have been killed. To me, it would not have been worth that kind of risk.’
“Mr. Trump, who is having the 50-year-old Bonwit building on Fifth Avenue at 56th Street razed to make way for a $100 million glass skyscraper, also said that he had ordered demolition workers several weeks ago to cut up and dispose of a huge Art Deco nickel grillwork over the building’s main entrance because the piece could not have been taken down otherwise.”
In a few days, the cost of saving the sculptures had increased 16-fold, and Trump had become the savior of the common man and woman.
“'There is nothing I would like to do more than give something to a museum,' he said in a recent interview. Why? 'I’ve always been interested in art.' A visitor observed that there was no art in Mr. Trump’s office. The developer considered this for a moment. Then, with a smile, he pointed to an idealized illustration of Trump Tower hanging on one of the walls.
“'If that isn’t art,' Mr. Trump said, 'then I don’t know what is.'"
|José Bedia's Piango piano llega legos (Step by Step You Can Go Far), 2000|
|Jimmie Durham's Snake Eyes!, 2006. Captions include: "SOMETIMES THE CAST OF THE DICE BRINGS ONLY MISFORTUNE… NOTHING WAS WHAT IT SEEMED… AS THOUGH IT WERE TWILIGHT, BUT PERHAPS ONLY BUREAUCRACY AND FAKERY… A MAELSTROM OF CONFUSION…"|