Gracious Manhattan living on taxpayer dollars

If you’re not from a wealthy family but would like to live in a beautiful Manhattan townhouse, one avenue you can explore is to become a U.N. diplomat. The Upper East Side is littered with sensational brownstones owned by foreign nationals as a residence for their attachés and staff. They fly the country’s flag and have brass placards on the façade declaring their country of origin. The property is considered a sovereign nation.

This is the Irish embassy. Don’t let that tatty scaffolding fool you. It’s a lovely building located on Fifth Avenue just a few blocks south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This is just ONE of the properties owned by France. They’re all have equal splendor. I like walking by at night so I can look inside the windows at the lighted rooms and steal decorating ideas.

This is my favorite. This is the Polish embassy. Why am I so surprised by its grandness? It’s not as though Poland is some backwards, broke-ass nation. I’m half Polish. Do you suppose I could get a tour?

Some consulates are more modest in scope.

Do you know what diplomatic immunity is? You get to live in a protective bubble where local laws do not apply to you. It’s been a thorn in the city’s side for decades. Misbehaving diplomats and, worse, their spoiled rotten sprog, can claim diplomatic immunity and get away with anything from parking violations to assault and, in one case, murder. They have special diplomat number plates for their cars and can park with impunity wherever they want. Many diplomats allow their status go to their heads and become raging assholes and repeat offenders.


This is another collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The reason I love these collaborative works so much (aside from my celebrity whoredom) is because their two styles play so well together. Their styles are distinct. You can easily tell who did what. It’s a whimsical pairing.

Andy Warhol & Jean-Michel Basquiat
Paramount Pictures
Est. $1,000,000-15,000,000
Sold for $2,772,500

The fun feature of this piece is a tube of paint that either fell or was thrown onto the upper left corner of the canvas and squeezed so that the paint oozed out. Fantastic. Jackson Pollock liked to drop debris onto his canvas as well.


Philippe Parreno
My Room is Another Fish Bowl
Est. $250,000-350,000
Sold for $516,500

In this frivolity recently sold at Christie’s, a fan placed in the corner of a room circulates air while helium-filled Mylar fish balloons gently swim by. The number of fish in the installation is contingent upon the size of the room. The security guards had to chase escapees  who swam into other galleries. This is one of two artist’s proofs. You really do get the sensation of walking in an aquarium. But a half mil? Methinks not.

53 thoughts on “Gracious Manhattan living on taxpayer dollars

  1. New York’s diplomatic residences are more interesting than DC’s embassy’s that’s for sure. For one thing, it was usually impossible snap pics like the ones you got. They’re almost always walled or gated off from the sidewalk or street, though back in the day for some reason the Chinese compound was accessible, relatively speaking.

    Jackson Pollock had a knack, that’s for sure.

    • Many of the embassies have 24 hour guard shacks outside and are manned by NYPD. I believe the Israeli embassy is always guarded. You might not be able to get close but you can’t beat those DC embassies for architecture.

      Jackson Pollock would fall into a trance my painting and all sorts of things and find the campus. He would just leave it there.

  2. Great photos of those dip residences. I enjoyed coming across them while rambling around London, too. Fabulous real estate. Canada probably has one of the best High Commission (embassy) locations ever – it’s in Trafalgar Square. It also has a spectacular one in Oslo overlooking the ocean. (I did some work around embassies for a while.)

    I always enjoy your art presentations – whether I like the art or not.

    • I love stumbling across the consulates. It’s like seeing a celebrity! I like the blue placards in London that indicate famous pervious occupants. We passed by Captain Bly’s house once.

      Would you enjoy the art more if I didn’t post the outrageous prices? That could spoil it.

  3. Someone needs to go all Lethal Weapon on those diplomats.
    Thanks for the walking tour. I’d like to get back there with just my wife. Maybe this summer… hmmm… I may be onto something.

      • So funny! We are trying to arrange a trip in the spring and I’m hoping I can take my family there for an overnight. (We’ll be in nearby Allentown, PA) But if we do, I’ll ping you beforehand and hopefully we can meet up.

  4. Diplomatic Immunity has been a pain for a very long time in most countries.
    Like an earlier reader, I always enjoy your art posts, though not always the art.What’s really nice about your”reviews” is that you show me work I’d otherwise not see. Keep ’em coming, my friend.:-)

    • I suppose diplomats are a necessary thing. But I wonder if many of them are worth the trouble they cause.

      Most of the art pieces I post are from auctions, which means nobody will ever see them again. Mostly, though, I’m astonished at the amount of money spent on something silly like a bunch of mylar balloons. This happens over and over again.

  5. I remember that durng the anti apartheid demonstrations in London South Africa House, on Trafalgar Square, had its windows protected by netting. It did not prevent one City gent, compete with bowler and rolled up umbrella using same to poke the spike through the netting to break them…
    Costa Rica has a nice des res in Lancaster Gate…always a pleasure to visit…

    It seems that the U.S. diplomats are nearly as much of a pain in the proverbial as the Nigerians in London when it somes to abuse of diplomatic immunity…I suggest that rather than try to collect the fines for their illicit parking one puts sugar in their petrol tanks or a potato up their exhausts…

    • I like the whole idea of each consulate being its own sovereign country. It’s a crazy notion of property. Did you know that the Vatican is considered a country and has its own military?

      As I said above, I guess diplomats have their place. They perform a valuable function. But where’s the fun in discussing that? I’m only interested in the ones caught driving with three times the legal blood alcohol limit or the ones beating up up their maids. Both of those things have happened here New York.

      • The Vatican is a weird one…declared a city state by Italy some time in the twenties I think…but sovereignty lies with the Holy See…i.e. Bishop of Rome aka the Pope. And what about the Sovereign Order of Malta…no territory, but has embassies with all the usual diplomatic paraphenalia…

  6. TV crime shows love to use the angle of diplomatic immunity. It’s such an absurd concept that it makes for great fiction.

    I love the fish. How fun for little kids to walk through (and adults too!)

    • I had no idea that diplomatic malfeasance was a plot device. It’s too stupid a concept to be made-up so I guess it’s perfect for fiction.

      I’m glad you heard those kids squealing in the fish exhibit. I was wondering if anyone was going to watch that with the volume up.

  7. Much of these consulates are along 5th Ave, if my memory serves. It’s been a long time, but I loved to stroll down from the Guggenheim and gawk at them all. The DC embassies are fun, but like another poster mentioned, not very accessible. At least they are all along Massachusetts Ave so you can see a ton of them in one fell swoop. I got a tour of the Finnish Embassy once due to the architecture connection. Look that one up…big M- Modern. Lovely interior spaces, vertiginous with vertical spaces to look up and down and through…all with a backdrop of Normanstone Park which gives the impression of a forest behind the building. Stunning spot.

    • Your memory is rocksolid. You could walk the stretch from the Met down to 59th and pass numerous ambassador residences.

      I guess it would be impractical and dangerous but since the embassies are technically owned by a country and not a specific individual, they should all be open for tours! I’ll float the idea and let you know how far I got.

      Have you ever toured the Woolworth Building? It’s my fave.

    • Of course I noticed! It’s been a very long time. I left a few comments demanding an explanation but he never replied. Someone who claims to know him said that he’s too busy to blog. But I don’t know what that supposed to mean.Let me know if you hear anything.

  8. I thought I left a comment here, but it seems I only thought I did! Consulates are always intriguing to me, but then that’s probably from watching and/or reading too many thrillers! I laughed when I heard the Mom tell the little kid, “Don’t touch!” LOL good luck with that, sister! xo

  9. Those elegant embassies blending in with the country they are hosted in… to me in stark contrast to the new USA London embassy … a $1billion fortress seemingly deliberately saying look how brash we are

  10. I dug the Embassy tour. Is there a Norway one and a Haiti one? Those would be fun to see which is the real shit hole.

    My dad used to show me Jackson’s stuff all the time when I was a little kid and told me his nickname was Jack the Dripper. I used to ask him to skip the pages and get to the “weird stuff.” My dad reminds me of this all the time. I should probably do some force-feeding of culture into my little dude as well. A fine tradition.

    • I’m not sure where they are but I can guarantee that Hati and Norway have an embassy here. I wonder what they look like? Interesting supposition.

      Force-feeding can backfire. I took my kids to another wacky light installation in a warehouse in Brooklyn over the weekend. My intention is to open their vistas but I think they just feel I’m an old eccentric. They may never step into an art exhibit again after they leave home.

  11. I’ve just had a quick look at where ours and the French embassies are, over here in Kaz. They both only occupy a floor of a building. That’s weird — so as soon as the lift arrives at that floor, the laws of Kaz don’t apply.

    I pass the US embassy on my way to work every morning. It’s a grim, flat, undecorated block of a building in a very unfashionable suburb. Mind you, Astana doesn’t really do “fashionable”.

      • Yes, I’m sure that’s the case. I’ve just had a look at the UK’s top 50 trading partners and Kaz doesn’t make the list. There isn’t much of a market for fermented mare’s milk in Watford.

  12. I actually was inside the Polish Embassy. A few years ago I was helping a friend sell his books at a street fair and I had several pen and ink drawings for sale that appeared in the book. A woman who worked at the embassy bought the drawing I had done of the facade of that building and invited me to take a quick look inside which I happily did. Very splendid and the building has an interesting history too.

    • Isn’t that great building? And conveniently located right next to the Morgan Library. Would love to know the history you refer to. Did you take any photos inside? Would love to see them. Perhaps it’s easier to get in than I imagine. You’re not even Polish!

  13. Sounds like a sweet deal if you can get it. I’m thinking of making my little bit of real estate a separate country so I can get diplomatic immunity and escape the consequences of all the stupid stuff I do. I know you have to file some kinds of forms to incorporate as a business – what form do I need to incountrinate?

    • I have a better idea. Why don’t you start your own religion. That way, you’ll never have to pay another penny of taxes ever again. As a bonus, people will worship the ground you walk on. What could be better? The Church o’ Peg.

  14. Forget the tour! If you have a parent who was a citizen of Poland when you were born? You can claim citizenship! I’m currently trying to learn whether (or when) my grandparents from Italy were naturalized. If they weren’t, then my father was born here as an Italian citizen! That means if i can pull together enough documentation i can get a second passport. Do you know how much easier it would be to visit my kid if i had a damn Italian passport?!?!?

    • I’m only second generation. One set came from Poland. The other, Italy. But they all abandoned their culture and language when they came here. They were AMERICAN, first and foremost. If they’d been a little more culturally sensitive, I could be trilingual. As it stands, I can barely wrestle with English. Too bad.

      Is it really that much of a hassle to have a U.S. passport? What have we wrought?!

  15. One day i discovered there are some embassies here in Pittsburgh, all near the CMU-Pitt corridor, all in swanky old buildings… and you misspelled Haiti… and there’s a great song by the band GBH called Diplomatic Immunity, dug that one out of the recesses of this drug-addled brain…

    • Why are there embassies in Pitts, I wonder? Are them from when that city used to be a real economic powerhouse? Like, Andrew Carnegie era shizzle. And I’m going to leave that misspelling. I wonder if everyone saw it but couldn’t bring themselves to say something? I’m appreciative. I just wish you’d said something earlier.

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