Leonard Lauder is giving the Met a billion-dollar collection of cubist pictures. Blake Gopnik wrote a rather acerbic response suggesting that anyone with a cheque book could assemble a great collection. I'm not so sure. Lots of gazillionaires have spent fortunes on bad collections. Some buy bad art, others assemble incoherent or repetitive collections. My appreciation of modern art is patchy, but the museums that I've loved are those with the stamp of a distinctive taste. The Beyeler Collection in Basel is magnificent. I also enjoy the exceptional cubist paintings at the Kunstmuseum Basel, from the Raoul La Roche bequest (although I still prefer the Holbeins).
Even museums with deep pockets don't always buy well. I think the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth has done relatively better than the Getty, for example. The Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westphalen has a comprehensive collection of classical modernist and expressionist art that was largely bought by the museum, under their brilliant director Werner Schmalenbach. It's a small, coherent, brilliant collection that is a pleasure to visit.
Adulation of expensive art collections can be tiresome and excessive. If I were a billionaire I'd want to commission Blake Gopnik to write an introduction to the catalogue of my art collection, as an antidote to the usual sycophancy. But forming a great collection does take more than money, and some collectors do deserve admiration - especially when they donate their collections to public museums. The Met hasn't given full details or images of the Lauder bequest, but what I've seen looks good.