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Art Collector Agnes Gund Starts a Criminal Justice Fund: “This is what I need to do.”

agnes gund

Fine art has a reputation or public image oftentimes of being an inaccessible space. There’s no doubt that there’s a definite history of disarming any kind of radical art born of protest and absorbing it into high culture. However, art collector Agnes Gund recently confirmed she sold Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 “Masterpiece” for $165 million for the explicit purpose of creating the Art for Justice Fund, hopefully encouraging a new wave of activism in the fine art world.

The fund “supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.” Announced at the MOMA today, it will begin with $100 million from the Lichtenstein and hopes to recruit other collectors to also use their collections for good. “This is one thing I can do before I die,” said Gund. “This is what I need to do.”

Ford Foundation president Darren Walker says he hopes the art collector community will see this as a ways for them to “use their influence and their collections to advance social justice.” Founding donors Laurie M. Tisch (Whitney Museum), Kenneth I. and Kathryn Chenault (American Express), Jo Carole Lauder, Daniel S. Loeb, and Brooke Neidich are also taking part in the fund, which will team up with organizations like the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama and “art-related programs on mass incarceration.”

Gund, who is grandmother to 6 African-American children, points to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Cros and the 2016 film 13th as catalysts for her taking action—illustrating the incredible power of these works and the need for them. 

13th director Ava DuVernay tweeted about Gund going to screening of her Netflix documentary and how the patron said she was incredibly moved by the film. She ends with this takeaway: “Be a warrior where you are.”

(via NY Times, Image: Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society on Flickr)

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