Last August 21st, Arte Fuse attended the VIP Preview for the Natural Lacquer Paintings of Wenzhi Zhang at Joy Wai Gallery. As we sat down for a tête-à-tête with the artist, she suddenly turned to Joy, owner of the gallery, then asked if Michael was on his way. The man in question was the sponsor of the show and connected Wenzhi to the NY gallery space. Michael Bolla is the Managing Director of Prudential Douglas Elliman, a premiere real estate company in the city, and also Executive Director of Elliman Equity Design. AF finally had the chance to talk to this passionate patron of the arts on August 28th and get his unique insight about the city he loves along with his take on the ever dynamic art scene that is only made in Manhattan.
Michael arranged with AF to meet at O Café on the corner of 12th Street and 6th Avenue. He starts off with the story on how he discovered the art of Wenzhi Zhang. It was at a meeting and waiting in the boardroom of Abacus Federal Savings Bank that he saw a book about this magnificent Chinese artist. Serendipitous moments and the right item at the most opportune time started the whole process of bringing her art to New York City. “Art and culture are the best mediums of removing stereotypes in our society.” He placed emphasis that Zhang’s art literally breaks the whole inferior notion connected to the label “Made in China”. As we have seen at the show her works are of high quality, global caliber, and representative of a product with (natural) substance.
He initially studied Finance and Economics then at Columbia University a professor sparked his interest in Art and Architecture. He has been in the real estate business for about twenty-four years and had seen the shifts in the neighborhoods over a considerable time. “The greatest job demographic growth in the city is within the creative fields. New York is a diverse city and the young talents working in these jobs want to live here.” His work in preservation projects on the Lower East Side (LES) is another key story. LES was forgotten real estate and the proliferation of abandoned buildings kept it non-existent until twelve years ago when the Clinton Housing became available for public residential use. Life came back to the area and it is now enjoying a stellar spotlight as the place for art and enjoy edgier culture. There was talk about a rediscovered underground trolley depot called the Low Line, which is the counterpart to the West Side’s High Line. The prevailing plans of turning it into an underground park does not make sense but rather honor the immigrant street markets that used to populate the area. “A Souk (market places typical in the middle east) would be more fitting, an underground market could draw more businesses, jobs and tourists to the area.”
Like any native New Yorker, Michael is a unique personality. He may have a high profile job but he enjoys the simple pleasure of riding his bike all over Manhattan. Fifteen hours of yoga is part of his regimen and he is an observant Jewish man. But he keeps himself in the zeitgeist and what is socially relevant. This is his main tenet of city living, “When people are accepting of themselves, it is easy to accept other cultures.” He has a deep affinity for and relates to Chinese culture. It is their superb work ethic, being goal oriented, and their philosophy that privilege is not given but earned. The current media spin that fame and fortune is an entitlement for anyone doesn’t hold sway as he has worked hard to be in a successful and happy station in life. He considers himself a connector of people as he did with Wenzhi Zhang and Joy Wai.
New York is undeniably the premiere capital for art as he explains, “It will always be the most open minded place in the world. This is where artists get to prove themselves and have to face the real feedback.” He is also supportive of the current administration of Bloomberg and Christine Quinn for Mayor in the future. It was essential that city officials addressed the fiscal needs of the city so they restored neighborhoods where a sense of community sprouted back and an elevated quality of life led to more diverse businesses. “Culturally, it is better if our streets are in a more human pace and scale.” Speaking of scale, Michael collects art but mainly paintings and works that he feels inspired to live with. The architect in him does not include sculptures as part of his collection due to the fact that they are three-dimensional and more space would do it justice like being placed in a public park or museum.
As dusk set in the summer sky slowly turning reddish gold on 6th Avenue, there is a jazz saxophone player a few steps down belting out a cool bebop tune in time with the leisurely pace of people on the sidewalks meandering where for a rare instance, New York slows down for a minute. He muses and wraps up everything with this statement, “Judgment does not create any positive platform. Only understanding does.”
article written and interview conducted by: Oscar A. Laluyan
photo of Michael Bolla provided by Feigie Leitman of Lubicom Marketing