by Michelle Parsons
For several years, real estate mogul Robbie Antonio has been working on his DREAM project. He has spent countless number of hours examining great works of art and studying architecture design to such a degree that his interest and enthusiasm borders on fanaticism. Aptly named “Obsession”, one part of the project will be an art gallery filled with 35 portraits of Robbie himself. At a cost as high as $250,000 per painting, the walls will be lined with works by internationally known contemporary artists such as David Salle, Kenny Scharf, and Julian Schnabel. Now referred to as the “Museum of Me” by the public and media, this gallery will only be ONE room of a 25,000 square foot home that is currently under construction in the Philippines, being designed by world famous Dutch architect and urbanist Rem Koolhaas. Built in an exclusive neighborhood of Manila and at an estimated cost of $15 Million, the home (called the “Stealth” by Robbie) will be a series of boxes stacked together in an irregular pattern with a rooftop pool and waterfall.
When word of Antonio’s dream project got out, it would be an understatement to say social media lit up. This is exactly the type of story the public loves to comment on, and almost everyone (but me) seems to have a strong opinion about. Words such as egomaniac, narcissist, elitist, vain and selfish were used the most often. Some went so far as to say he is not in touch with reality or part of society, and that he was born with a “silver spoon in his mouth”. He was also attacked for his business partnerships and friendships with Paris Hilton, LaToya Jackson and Donald Trump. Some even suggested that he probably avoids paying his taxes and compared him to Imelda Marcus, the former First Lady of the Philippines who allegedly owned 3,000 pairs of shoes. A small minority, however, defended his right to spend his money anyway he wanted while an even smaller group just described him as simply a “patron of the arts”.
What interested ME the most about the public’s reaction was that not one of the comments I read was written by anyone who actually knew Robbie. Yet practically everyone wrote with such certainty, and most were ready to convict him based on the limited facts that were presented. This made me think of ALL the times I have also jumped to such a quick conclusion about another, how easy it was for me to “label” someone that I had never met or hardly knew. I know we are all guilty of this, but what bothers me is that so many people these days are so steadfast in their opinions that it’s impossible for them to be neutral or objective…. and almost no one is capable of giving anyone else the “benefit of a doubt”.
Although I know next to nothing about Robbie Antonio other than what I reported above, and have no desire to defend him personally, why do we assume that someone who pays $20M+ on his house and art work does not also CONTRIBUTE to society just as much as anyone else? Why do we judge someone based on the home they live in, the clothes they wear, the cars they drive or the number of charities they support? In a capitalistic society where there will always be inequities in wealth, what should matter most is NOT how people spend their money but how they treat others. How many times have we heard of a wealthy person who writes a big check to some charity to impress others (or get rid of guilt) and then goes home and kicks their dog or beats their wife and children? Whatever good energy was created by his donation has just been cancelled out by how he treated his family. Is this the type of person we want to applaud and support? The amount of money someone has (or how they choose to spend it) will never tell the whole story of who they really are behind closed doors.
Very few of us are capable of being a Mother Teresa, and I personally don’t want to live in a world where everyone was. We are all here in this world on SEPARATE paths working on different things. I don’t know what Robbie Antonio is working on in this life, or what his joys or struggles are. I don’t know if he is a good guy or not. I just think he should have the freedom and choice to contribute to society in his own way. If there is a Judgment Day when we are done with this life, I believe that acts of kindness will be given greater weight than dollars contributed.