The duo also traveled looking for art to buy for the foundation. In New York, they met Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, and Andy Warhol. In 1980, Warhol made a portrait of Hoffmann’s grandmother and wanted to do hers too. He took some Polaroids, but she refused. “I said, ‘Why would I need a portrait?’ ” she recalled. “I was so stupid.”
In the early eighties, Hoffmann split her time between Paris, Arles, and New York, often staying in friends’ lofts on the Lower East Side as she studied film at the New School and New York University. “I was on the scene then, but I wasn’t a player,” she said this past April when we were having lunch near the sprawling apartment she owns in a 19th-century former schoolhouse on the Lower East Side. She bought it in 1994 with Patkin, when it was a dilapidated building on a crack-ridden block; the New Museum was years away from opening nearby. “She couldn’t tell her family that she was buying a building with some crazy artists and moving into this crack-infested street,” Patkin recalled. “She was still single, and she did it on the sly. But this was so Maja. It took me a long time to understand she was from that kind of family. All that changed when she began to take very seriously the sense of legacy and responsibility that comes with her kind of wealth.” Of course, she also enjoyed the entrée it gave her. In Saint Moritz, she became the second woman granted membership into the exclusive Dracula Club, founded by industrialist playboy Gunter Sachs. The club’s initiation rite involves tobogganing headfirst down the icy three-quarter-mile-long track of the Cresta Run.
As her driver ferried us to the restaurant, I listened to Hoffmann make plans. On Monday, she was definitely going to preview the inaugural Frieze New York on Randall’s Island, she told a friend by phone; moments later, she admitted to me she didn’t see how she could possibly get there because she was meeting Fischer for breakfast and then would be off to Long Island City to visit Rudolf Stingel in his studio. How would she fit in seeing Liam Gillick install his new show in Chelsea before her root canal at 4 p.m.? It was Hoffmann’s birthday, and her BlackBerry was buzzing with messages. Some were from her core group, who were lamenting the news that Swiss artist David Weiss, Hoffmann’s close friend, had died the day before in Zurich. His death was clearly on her mind as we ate lunch.
Though exceedingly private, Hoffmann began talking about Nicolas Economou, the Cyprus-born pianist, conductor, and composer who was her “second love story,” she said. Economou’s marriage was ending when the two met in Paris in 1986; his death in a car crash in 1993, shortly after Hoffmann ended their relationship, devastated her. A child prodigy who came to international attention at 16, Economou was brilliant—and smothering. “He wanted to lock me at home,” Hoffmann said. “He hated contemporary art and New York and was very jealous. So I was cut off from the world. It’s as simple as that. It was a major passion.” Eventually, she told me, “I wanted to be free. He was high-strung and anguished, and I couldn’t live with him anymore.” Economou was working on a rock opera when he died; Hoffmann has plans to produce his unrealized musical.