The lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic reinforced the fact that the gap that separates the economically privileged classes from the rest of the population is really an abyss. The very cult of fame that sustains many of our social rituals reached a crisis point as videos in which Hollywood and music stars urged their followers not to leave their limited dwellings from palatial residences surrounded by gardens. Arnold Schwarzenegger advised people to “stay at home as much as possible” while demonstrating that he could fit a pony and a donkey in his kitchen and had plenty of room for other animals in his stable. Ellen DeGeneres complained that her dining table was not big enough to hold a 4,000-piece puzzle; she did so in front of a glass window overlooking lush tropical greenery.
It would be naïve to think that it was only then that the world discovered the privileges that the rich and famous enjoy every day, although they did become more visible — more tangible — than ever before. But that period of time did expose the stark and unforgivable lack of taste of people who have everything, including the money to buy some taste. During the pandemic, comedian Dan Rosen, 31, was secluded in his apartment and became addicted to videos in which celebrities showed off their homes. “I was obsessed with them and at the same time hated watching them,” the native New Yorker tells EL PAÍS. “They were all the same. They had the same tone and the same decor; it was frustrating.”
So, he decided to start posting analyses of those videos on his TikTok account. His followers began to increase: “I guess people liked them because they saw passion in them, and also a certain cruelty that comes from the tradition of comedy.” He continues to make those videos today. In them, he uses acidic humor to describe the homes of Pharrell Williams, Tommy Hilfiger and the Kardashians; he also provides cheeky rankings of things like the furniture that celebrities should stop buying and the art that rich people with bad taste own.
“I think those people care more about the aesthetic of status and wealth than about using the money they have to create a house that reflects their sensibility,” Rosen says. “Figuring out what you really want, what your taste is, is more than just copying and pasting what you’ve seen in other houses or in magazines. Within that category, there are various clichés… They can be more Donald Trump-style or more of the tech billionaire style, but what they all have in common is that you always see repetitions of the same objects and narratives, which is pretty boring.”
Rosen uses the word “boring” constantly, and he seems to consider dullness to be interior decorating’s worst sin. Then again, when a celebrity opts for an aesthetic of the ornate and the bizarre — as in the cases of Gwen Stefani and Dita Von Teese — he is just as ruthless. “I actually do like Dita Von Teese’s house because it’s unique, although if I went in there I’d go crazy,” he says. “In her case, there is a way of going too far that is original, but the truth is that it doesn’t feel like a home either; it feels like a madhouse or a room in a museum. There should be a balance that allows you to be true to yourself without going there. Cara Delevingne also has an insane house; each room is a different style. Okay, maybe I’m too harsh, but they can take it. After all, they have a lot of money.”
Now preparing a comedy show and a podcast based on his videos, Rosen studied fine arts, and even started an internship as a painter, a task that he combined with being a stand-up comedian. “But I figured I couldn’t have two stupid dreams at the same time, so I ended up focusing on comedy,” he says. That became his sole pursuit after leaving the start-up where he worked as creative director. However, he remained in contact with the art world, where many of his friends still work. And he still retains that sensibility, which he has always carried inside of him.
Perhaps that is why Rosen’s house reviews pay special attention to the art that hangs on the walls. Some of his bêtes noires are Damien Hirst, Kaws and Banksy, whom he considers to be expensive status symbols beyond anything else. “They are not subtle; they are visually striking and go down easy because of their lack of a message,” he says. “Many of them are so mainstream that, if you have them in your house, anyone who walks in is going to recognize them, even if they don’t know anything about art. And you’ll be validated by it. But that art just says that you have money and can buy expensive stuff. I seriously doubt that anyone who sees a Kaws can feel a deep connection to it.”
Question. The fact that art serves as a status symbol is not new. To name just one example, Donatello’s David was a status symbol for the Medici family.
Answer. But there are many rich people who, in using art in that way, have also found artists who have created something profound or innovative, or who have an aesthetic sensibility. What I criticize is boring art that doesn’t go beyond simple decoration. And there are artists who give the viewer something more than ornamental value.
Q. What are some things that you’ve liked in famous people’s homes?
A. Conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s work in Kendall Jenner’s house, for example. Maybe it’s because the richer you are, the better consultants you [can] get, but Kruger has connections to the Kardashians because of her use of mass media symbols. You see a relationship there. Also, Gwyneth Paltrow, who has a Ruth Asawa that they said was fake, shows some sensitivity so that the piece doesn’t look out of place in her home; it’s not boring either. Alicia Keys also has a good art collection. Except for the occasional Kaws.
Rosen considers Dalí to be one of the most overrated artists in history: “There is a lack of subtlety in Dalí, and his Freudian side seems old-fashioned to me.” He does appreciate other Spanish artists and highlights Picasso. “I hope they don’t hate me in Spain for saying that I don’t like Dalí,” he jokes. “Besides, he was a fascist, wasn’t he? You can say that I don’t like Dalí, but I don’t like [dictator Francisco] Franco either.”
In addition, he dislikes the current trend of cuqui, the style of Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara and his many followers, and Rosen isn’t fond of kawaii art in general. “That style fits in with the growing infantilization of our culture,” he diagnoses. “A lot of people want to pretend they understand art, but at the same time they’re not willing to make the effort to engage with more complex aesthetic forms, so they take what they liked as children and elevate it to the same status as great works. Recently, we’ve been optimistic about experiencing that love of the mainstream. So, it seems like Marvel movies are the same as Scorsese movies and should be treated the same, or that Harry Potter should be studied in universities as if it were great literature. We reject anything remotely complicated or requiring education or research as elitist or presumptuous… It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Q. What kind of art would you like to find in normal people’s homes?
A. Normal people should have Picassos and Warhols! Jokes aside, if you want to be a collector and you are not rich, you should rely more on your own taste, because you won’t be able to buy what is validated by the big fairs or galleries. I would encourage people to find something that has meaning to them, not what they think is popular or what they’ve seen in magazines or in other homes. Don’t decorate your home for Instagram, but [rather by] using objects that say something to you on a personal level or have something to do with you.
Q. What about the homes of the rich, what should they look like?
A. They should pay better art consultants! And let them go to museums, to galleries. In general, I doubt those people have been to many museums. The Met gala doesn’t count.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition