Nicole Marengo said she was in shock.
“I cannot even believe what I am reading right now,” she said.
The suggestion that former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would spend an exorbitant amount of taxpayers’ money for his own personal gain is nothing new.
But, after leaving office in January, the fact that Christie would spend $85,000 of it on his official commemorative portrait — and not even hire an art consultancy or artist based in New Jersey to create it — is “incredibly sad,” Marengo, the owner and president of Madison Art Consulting, a leading art consultancy in Hilltop, said.
“In all seriousness, there were probably four or five consultants and at least a dozen artists in his area alone that he could’ve worked with instead,” she said.
Christie commissioned his portrait through Sewell Fine Portraiture, a Manhattan firm that also has brokered portraits of subjects such as former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Christie’s portrait will be painted by Sydney, Australia-based Paul Newton, an award-winning and highly-esteemed artist whose portfolio includes the Duke of Edinburgh, recording artist Kylie Minogue and former NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Christie signed a contract in December, maintaining that the oil portrait on canvas of a three-quarter-figure size would be paid for through a taxpayer-funded transition account of $250,000, granted to former governors to pay for staff, office space and services, such as the official commemorative portrait.
According to documents obtained by the Record newspaper through the state’s Open Public Records Act, the $85,000 price tag is more than the combined $74,500 that his three Democratic predecessors, Jon Corzine, Richard Codey and Jim McGreevey, paid for their portraits.
However, Marengo said, it isn’t the high price tag that surprised her.
“If the artist is very well known, it is not uncanny to see such a high amount,” she said. “My biggest sadness is that there are so many local painters out there, so many that even have probably been part of Christie’s past projects in some way, shape or form, who could have been selected.
“Instead, Christie and the firm he worked with decided to look and give the money away overseas, which is especially something we are trying to fight against in the arts community. We love other artists, and it’s not like we won’t submit or work with them, but our preference is to help each other in the community, first, and to support those artists who are here in our country, first.
“If we don’t help to feed each other, who else will?”
The $85,000 price tag is the highest for a governor since Democrat Jim Florio paid Ronald Sherr, a Plainfield native, to paint his.
According to the contract, Christie already has paid $37,500 toward the portrait and currently owes $47,500.
“We should feel embarrassed,” Marengo said. “That is a lot of money going to another area that could’ve been used here. Christie could’ve easily and effectively put out the call for area artists, to reach out to the community, and we all would have noted that.
“This was an opportunity for him to again connect with the public, and he failed.”