Happy Birthday, Joe Shapiro!

1980s Board Community Founders Joe Shapiro

Board members and friends celebrate Joseph Randall Shapiro’s 85th birthday in this colorful video greeting.

Helyn Goldenberg: Happy birthday, Joe. Your 85th. I can’t understand why your birthdays seem to come around so much more often than mine do. But then again, have you ever contemplated why the occasion of your birthday seems to necessitate a series of parties, poems, videotapes, and a variety of other celebrations from your friends? I have. But I would like to keep that as a subject for one of our lunches. You know, those lunches where we discuss art, poetry, Shakespeare, sex, and the Museum of Contemporary Art—the place that Jory calls our museum. That’s an interesting subject. Possibly not as interesting as sex but we discuss it anyway.

Actually, Joe, it was at one of those lunches at the Arts Club that you convinced me to become to the President of the Museum of Contemporary Art, something for which I will always be grateful to you. I think. No, I know. Joe, here it is. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Love from Ralph. Love to Jory.

Robert Mayer: Joe, I’ve been asked to come out of my mountain seclusion here and say a few words to you on this auspicious occasion. And as I think back to my tender teenage years, one of the thoughts that’s foremost in my memory is a time, almost 25 years ago to the day, when you and dad and a whole bunch of crazies were sitting around our home electing officers for what was to be the Museum of Contemporary Art. Imagine, this was a time in your life when most people were thinking about retirement, but not you. You were just starting a whole new life as the soul and the leader of what today is recognized worldwide as a foremost institution and center for the contemporary arts.

Camille Oliver-Hoffmann: Hi Joe. I want you to know that when Paul and I were young, erstwhile, hopeful collectors, anticipatory collectors, we searched this city over looking for knowledge and information about contemporary art and we couldn’t find any. We were seeking just a scrap, a shred, a thread. We found nothing. The Art Institute was mired in the last century, and wherever we turned we seemed to meet nothing until we finally had to go out of this city to find some answers. We had to go to New York.

And then we moved away from the city for the greatest portion of our time. We would come back [for] only very short periods of time, and in one of our trips back we were in touch with the museum at that point and we came out to a meeting which you hosted, you and Jory so graciously had at your home. And you spoke on collecting. And everything that I had been seeking, all of the knowledge and information that I had worked so hard to find and never could find, you gave in this one little talk. And it was so inspiring and so helpful to me. We had just flown in from Charlottesville, Virginia, which has very beautiful country but not the ideas and concepts that you were presenting. And I found what you were telling me so, so wonderful that I had to run home immediately and write you a secret fan letter.

And you ended what you gave us with the words of your mother. “Joe, from this you earn a living?” “No, mama, from this you make a life.” And you helped all of us to make a very good life, Joe. So on this, your moment of birthday, because it’s a sort of a continuing birthday celebration, I say many happy returns because we need your leadership for a long time to come. Bless your heart.

Lindy Bergman: And I can’t help but think to way back, back into the fifties when you were such great help to Ed and me and had so much influence on us and our collecting and meant so very, very much to us. You were so wonderful, always. You’ve always been wonderful to the museum and to everyone in Chicago as you’ve spread your wonderful philosophy and thoughts and goodwill and your generosity. And I wish you many, many happy years of continuing in that same vein. Love and kisses from Lindy!

Marshall Holleb: Joe, I’m delighted to be among those who can be here to congratulate you on still another great event, one of your birthdays. I have to really recall back in 20 more years ago, when the little band was meeting under your leadership to have the kind of outrageous ambition to take over the 1212 Lakeshore Drive circuit court of appeals building and to wrest it away from the government and use it for such a strange thing then: a museum of contemporary art. I have to confess that there were many of us in that little band who were very doubtful that such a thing could occur. But it was your unquenchable desire, your determined leadership, your complete faith in the virtue of the project and the need for it, that held us all together and made us proceed in the face of what anybody else would have said [was] sheer foolishness.

And now that sheer foolishness, some 20 or more years later, is about to blossom into a new Museum of Contemporary Art in one of the great sites in the United States.

Lew Manilow: I want to talk about another quality, which I don’t think people talk about as much as they should. And that’s your patience. I remember what you went through with a lot of the directors and other people in this institution. And throughout it all, you smiled. You did what had to be done. You were always willing to be there for the long haul. You always accepted what it was and remembered that this institution was going to be here not only when you’re gone but when all of us are gone, and we’re going to establish some traditions and some values and some morality about it. And that will come from the very beginning. That is to say, it will come from you. And so, I thank you for that. That whatever we make of this institution, wherever it may be, it is founded on the bedrock of your values, your patience, and your generosity. And in closing I will say before you do—and of your modesty I say nothing.

Jerry Stone: Joe, at this wonderful birthday time of yours we’re dealing in the museum with probably one of the most important decisions that’s ever been made and that is the question of our site and the future of the museum for the next 25 years. You certainly had the foresight and vision and were certainly prophetic in knowing some 20 years ago that there was a need for a contemporary museum in Chicago. I know that you will assist us in our deliberations hopefully for the next 25 years and I think that in conjunction with the fact of celebrating your birthday, I think these are two very, very important milestones for all of us to celebrate and to have a great feeling of joy and excellence.

Browning once wrote, “Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” I’m not sure whether that was for "Rabbi Ben Ezra" or "A Grammarian's Funeral," but I think it was the former. And I think that the museum and Joe and some of the elder statesmen, other elder statesmen like myself, I think and have the feeling of growing old—older along with the museum and yet have the ability to make these momentous decisions. And I think this is a great time of celebration and joy for all of us and particularly to celebrate your birthday with the advent of the fact that we’re building a brand new future for the future.

John Cartland: Your birthday is going to be a very monumental year for the Museum of Contemporary Art. In the next few days, as you know, and I hope you’ll be part of that decision, we’ll make the big decision as to whether the next 85 years will be spent on Chicago Avenue or on Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. So we look forward to your participation. 

Paul Oliver-Hoffmann: It’s Friday afternoon and I’ve just returned from a meeting with Mayor Daley relative to the new Museum of Contemporary Art. You’ll be pleased to know that the mayor has assured us of his full support in our endeavor in building the new museum. As you’re aware, for the last several months we have been deeply involved in the plans for our new museum. Very often when I think about the new museum, I think about how short a period of time has passed since you and a few visionaries founded this institution. At this time now, thanks to your vision, we’re on the verge of constructing and becoming a world-class institution and hopefully one of the best.

You’re probably too modest a man to fully realize the impact that you have made to this time and the greater impact or legacy that you have left to the people of Chicago and possibly the world. When Camille and I were younger and just started collecting, there was no place in the city of Chicago that we could go for guidance. There were no magazines available to speak of. There were no really good galleries in the city dealing with contemporary art, and one had to look elsewhere.

 Today, the citizens of this city, the art collectors that we service, can get all of the information, the excitement, and the knowledge they need due to your foresight. I thank you very, very much. Hopefully, in celebrating a birthday of yours a few years from now, you’ll be cutting the ribbon on our new museum. And at that time, I will say to you what I say to you now: Happy birthday, Joe, and many, many more.

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