Greenspan, Her Art-Throb

By Ben White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 11, 2005

NEW YORK -- Some art majors embrace abstract impressionism. Others go for post-modernism or neo-cubism. Erin Crowe opted for Alan Greenspanism.

Fascinated by the Federal Reserve Board chairman's inscrutable visage and towering reputation, the 24-year-old University of Virginia graduate spent the better part of two years working on unauthorized portraits of Greenspan. She wound up with 20 paintings and sketches.

Looking to make a few bucks before heading to graduate school in England this fall, Crowe decided to display the works over the summer at a family friend's gallery in Sag Harbor, Long Island, vacation home to many Greenspan-worshiping Wall Streeters.

From the moment the Greenspan images appeared, people began wandering in off the street to gaze at the paintings, which capture the Fed chairman's face in a variety of expressions ranging from exasperation to perplexity to mirthful amusement. Titles of the works include "If You Say So," "I Gotta Tell Ya" and "Humpf."

Several visitors to the gallery bought paintings, telling stories of how they adored the Fed chairman, how he had saved the world and made them millions.

But things really exploded on Tuesday after financial news network CNBC aired a couple of brief segments on the paintings. Gallery owner Sally Breen's phone immediately started ringing and did not stop until all 18 paintings on display had been sold for prices ranging from $1,000 to $4,000. (Crowe didn't sell two of her Greenspans because they were not quite complete.)

Hedge fund adviser E. Lee Hennessee bought one for $2,000 and said Wednesday she could turn around and sell it to one of her hedge fund manager friends for $10,000, no sweat. (She said she hung it in her company's boardroom instead.)

"It was overwhelming. I've never experienced anything like it," said Breen, the gallery owner, of reaction to Crowe's work. "I had money managers calling form Nevada, Dallas, California. I had one woman call, I don't know what she did for a living, but said Greenspan was her hero, and she had to have a painting."

Another prospective buyer wondered if the artist would take a commission to do a big new Greenspan to adorn an office lobby. Crowe is considering it.

Greenspan worship is hardly a new phenomenon. Songs have been written about the Fed chairman's stewardship of interest rates and inflation and his oracular wisdom regarding all things economic.

The clamor has increased as Greenspan's 18-year run as Fed chair draws to a close. He is expected to step down early next year, and many on Wall Street fret that no one will be able to steer the economy through bursting bubbles and international financial crises the way Greenspan could.

But why would a young art student from Virginia fall so hard for the man in the big glasses?

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