The Massachusetts Institute of Technology would like everyone to know that White House spokesman Larry Speakes is all wet as a culture critic.
Abraham Sigel, dean of the Sloan School of Management, says neither "the guy who painted the roof of the Sistine Chapel" nor "the one who painted the naked women" work at the university. And neither of them should be confused with MIT Prof. Franco Modigliani, who recently won the Nobel Prize for economics.
Speakes painted himself into a corner over Modigliani the other day. The Nobel Prize winner had told Congress that balanced-budget legislation supported by the Reagan administration took "a Mickey Mouse approach" and could be a "formulation for disaster."
Asked for a comment, Speakes misspoke. "Got nothing for you ," he told reporters. "I thought he was the fella that painted the Sistine Chapel . . ."
He had the wrong guy, the wrong painter, the wrong century. The Sistine Chapel was painted by the great 16th-century artist and sculptor Michelangelo. Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian painter, died in 1920. He is best remembered for his modern portraits with elongated faces and bodies.
Modigliani, the Nobel Prize winner, was huffing mad when he read Speakes' comments in the Boston Globe. He telephoned The Washington Post late Tuesday night, saying he had some artfully drawn comments about Speakes. It seems he wanted to paint him red.
"Perhaps you've heard of me," he said. "I just won the Nobel Prize."
There wasn't a reporter available. When one called Modigliani back, his wife Serena said the economist had thought better of getting into a sparring match with the White House.
To be fair to Speakes, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings are undergoing a major restoration. Maybe he thinks works by Modigliani -- the painter, not the economist -- will be uncovered. Or perhaps the Laffer Curve.
Speakes, according to informed sources, is better commenting on Reagan heroes like Adam Smith. He plays shortstop for the Cardinals (the ones in St. Louis, not Rome), doesn't he?
Or is that Ozzie?