Oprah Winfrey charms Wall Street

"The last time I accepted an award, I accidentally wound up running for president. So I’m going to choose my words very carefully today.’’ - OPRAH WINFREY (above), on Tuesday, referring to her rousing speech at the Golden Globes in January, whi
"The last time I accepted an award, I accidentally wound up running for president. So I’m going to choose my words very carefully today.’’ - OPRAH WINFREY (above), on Tuesday, referring to her rousing speech at the Golden Globes in January, which sparked speculation about a presidential runPHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

American media mogul picks up David Rockefeller Award at MoMA luncheon attended by many business leaders

NEW YORK •Media mogul Oprah Winfrey may have moved past the talk of her running for United States president, but on Tuesday, she found an audience of Wall Street titans who could easily back her campaign.

She joined private-equity billionaires Leon Black and Henry Kravis, as well as hedge-fund founder Dan Och, at a fund-raising luncheon for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to accept the David Rockefeller Award "for enlightened generosity and advocacy of cultural and civic endeavours".

At the Golden Globes in January, she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award with a rousing speech promising "a new day" for women, minorities and the downtrodden, sparking speculation about a presidential run - and sending shares of Weight Watchers International higher.

At the MoMA luncheon, by contrast, she got a few minutes with a Wall Street-heavy crowd at an event that is one of the top draws on New York's philanthropic circuit. "The last time I accepted an award, I accidentally wound up running for president," Winfrey, 64, told the audience. "So I'm going to choose my words very carefully today."

Winfrey, an avid collector, spoke about the "transformative" power of art and the role it has played in her life. She said she started with buying inexpensive postcards and eventually progressed to bidding on masterpieces at auction.

"At a time when the world seems to have gone off its rocker, the notion that art can sometimes actually remind us of who we really are suggests the possibility that there is something more and there is something better," she said.

She will get more time with business leaders in May, when she chairs the Robin Hood Foundation benefit, a gathering of about 4,000 people from top banks, hedge funds and Fortune 500 companies.

She attended the event last year, sitting with Mr Kravis and hedge-fund founder Ken Griffin.

Tuesday's luncheon at the Ziegfeld Ballroom started with waiters offering chardonnay, sparkling water and steak tartare on toast. The menu included a mizuna, tatsoi and Asian pear salad; farmhouse chicken breast with wild rice and maitake mushrooms; and a coconut cream vacherin. Salad greens, fruit and chicken breast are zero points in the Weight Watchers Freestyle programme.

Winfrey, who has been busy promoting her new movie A Wrinkle In Time, owns almost 10 per cent of Weight Watchers.

Tickets to the event ranged from US$2,500 to US$10,000 (S$3,290 to S$13,160), helping to raise US$3.4 million for the museum's arts-education programme.

Hollywood mogul and MoMA benefactor David Geffen was among those attending, as were artists Yinka Shonibare and Huma Bhabha, Ariel Investment president Mellody Hobson and former Lehman Brothers chairman Dick Fuld.

The museum indirectly played a role in Winfrey making a 71 per cent profit from the sale of a Gustav Klimt painting. She bought Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer II in 2006 for US$87.9 million at Christie's in New York. In 2014, with Mr Geffen's help, she loaned the work anonymously to the museum. Art dealer Larry Gagosian saw it on display and, through Mr Geffen, found a buyer.

Winfrey sold the painting for US$150 million in 2016, one of the biggest private-art deals that year.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2018, with the headline 'Oprah Winfrey charms Wall Street'. Print Edition | Subscribe