Agnes Gund sold her Roy Lichtenstein painting sometime in the last year. Josh Baer reported the sale in January. Now Gund is going public with an off-key appeal. She is using $100m of the $165m Steven Cohen paid for Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece (above) to establish the “Art for Justice” fund to support criminal justice reform in the US.
Make no mistake, Gund’s philanthropy is profound and her willingness to use any network to attract donors is both valid and laudable. But trying to make it the particular responsibility of art collectors to support a charity requires factitious assertions like this one:
“There’s long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country,” said Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”
The money to fund philanthropy is fungible. It is irrelevant what assets are sold to raise the cash. As the rest of the story ends up demonstrating. Gund may have long coattails in the art world but there’s no evidence anyone else sees the connection between selling art and supporting criminal justice reform. Good old cash will always suffice:
Those who have already committed to the fund — and are being called founding donors — include Laurie M. Tisch, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Kenneth I. Chenault, chief executive of American Express, and his wife, Kathryn; the philanthropist Jo Carole Lauder; the financier Daniel S. Loeb; and Brooke Neidich, a Whitney trustee.
The financier and collector Donald Marron, MoMA’s president emeritus, said he would support the fund — though probably not through the sale of his art — and commended Ms. Gund’s efforts. “Aggie has been so committed to art her whole life and now she’s using the art to jump-start her efforts in criminal justice,” he said. “That’s a model I hope other people will follow.”
Agnes Gund Sells a Lichtenstein to Start Criminal Justice Fund (The New York Times)