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Agnes Gund: Inside her studio of prescient collection

Monitoring Desk

Since joining the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1976, Agnes Gund has long held sway over the art world, and she has used her position to support the careers of generations of artists—in particular women artists, artists of color, and queer artists—long before mainstream institutions were paying attention to them. She also felt that it was necessary to advocate for these artists within museums, arguing that sites like MoMA ought to boldly dare to acquire work by those who were transforming the art world.

“We’ve caught up with Aggie to some degree,” Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, recently told ARTnews. “She was ahead of her time as far back as the 1970s.”

Gund’s first major purchase was a sculpture by Henry Moore, but she soon donated that piece to the Cleveland Museum of Art after feeling guilty about spending so much money on it. Among the artists she initially began to collect were Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko, who were later joined by Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Nick Cave, Julie Mehretu, Catherine Opie, Vija Celmins, Martin Puryear, and many others.

Since that first Moore sculpture donation, Gund has gifted several U.S. museums with hundreds of works from her collection, most notably MoMA, which has received or been promised more than 900 works of art. Gund rarely sells work from her collection, except on rare occasions to benefit causes that are dear to her. She parted ways with her prized Roy Lichtenstein to create the six-year initiative the Art for Justice Fund, and she sold a Carmen Herrera work to benefited her alma mater, Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut.

See a slideshow of selections from her collection below.

colorful abstract painting made up of a grid of squares of bright colors

Photo : Courtesy Agnes Gund Collection

Stanley Whitney, By the Love of Those Unloved, 2004.

Stanley Whitney is known for his experiments with color and abstraction, creating numerous series like this one, in which vibrantly hued colors are organized into irregular grids. The juxtaposition of colors and shapes are in part inspired by the artist’s longtime love of jazz. This painting currently hangs above the fireplace in Agnes Gund’s dining room. 

gray and blue toned painting of a map with some state names visible

Photo : Courtesy Agnes Gund Collection

Jasper Johns, Map, 1963.

Jasper Johns, who will be the subject of a retrospective at the Philadelphia Mueum of Art and the Whitney Museum in New York later this year, rose to prominence in the late 1950s, creating bodies of work centering on targets, flags, and, later, maps of the United States of America. In some versions, the map is dominated by primary colors, but in this case, parts of the map are abstracted by streaks of grays and light purpley-blues. 

abstract painting with red, orange, and gold hues

Photo : Courtesy Agnes Gund Collection

Arshile Gorky, Housatonic Falls, 1943–44.

One of the leading artists of Abstract Expressionism, Arshile Gorky was both intimately related to the movement and also an outlier. His work from the ’20s exhibits a Cubist influence, while later works are indebted to European Surrealism. Gund purchased this work from the esteemed collector of Abstract Expressionism, Ben Heller.

gray graphite drawing of the planet saturn

Photo : Courtesy Agnes Gund Collection

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Saturn), 1979–81.

Vija Celmin is known for her often photorealistic graphite drawings of the natural environment from the stillness of continuously moving waters to the night sky. Here, she offers a fuzzy image of the planet Saturn. 

detailed drawing of a vicious red and orange fish with its mouth open

Photo : Courtesy Agnes Gund Collection

Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1970.

Lee Bontecou was primarily known for her pioneering feminist sculptures in which canvas stitched and sutured with wire, that often created deep voids into the wall-mounted pieces. But Bontecou also created a vast body of drawings like this one, in which a vicious-looking fish is drawn in reds, oranges, and grays. 

abstract painting of thing green angled shapes on a white ground

Photo : Courtesy Sotheby’s

Carmen Herrera, Blanco y Verde, 1966–67.

Born in 1915, Carmen Herrera has been one of the most prolific artists of the past century, still creating art well into her 105th year. Herrera has long been underrecognized for her important hard-edge abstractionist canvases, like this one, which have only in the past few years been the subject of major exhibitions and museum acquisitions. Agnes Gund purchased this work in 2006 and sold it in 2019 to benefit her alma mater Miss Porter’s School. 

Courtesy: ART News