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Musings From Agnes Gund

One of the country’s leading art patrons and president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art



Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Agnes Gund is one of the most important and influential art patrons and collectors of the past century. She is founding trustee of the Agnes Gund Foundation and president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art. In 2011, she was nominated by President Barack Obama as a member of the board of trustees of the National Council on the Arts. Mother of four and grandmother of 11, she reflects on various topics.

On living with art
I grew up surrounded by art on the walls. I always feel a bit nervous when I walk into a house chockablock with furniture but no art.  Because I loan art, I’m always interested in my reaction when it is returned. I find that sometimes I haven’t missed the piece or I see it in a totally different way. It very much depends on what it’s near, how it hangs and interacts with other pieces. And the light, of course. I am very much affected by how things will change from one hour to the next depending on how they are illuminated.

On her own art career  
While I love art, I have a terrible inability to create it myself and I’ve had to struggle with that my whole life, particularly in college. As an art-history major I had to take a fine-arts course. The teacher kept giving me a C and that kept me off the dean’s list. I just couldn’t draw and the teacher couldn’t understand that. How can you give a person a C because they don’t draw well when they can’t draw well?

On living with dogs    
I have two dogs—Giotto, a Wheaton terrier, and Bronzino, an Italian water dog, named for the artist, not the fish. They are my favorite beings. You can talk to them and they don’t talk back. They greet you and don’t complain about what an awful day they had. And thankfully they’ve been trained not to wag their tails too close to any of the art.

On fashion  
I don’t consider myself a fashionista. When Geoffrey Beene was alive, I wore a lot of his clothes. I just adored him. Now I really can’t buy things that aren’t age-appropriate—like jumpsuits! I love Isabel Toledo’s work and I wear some of her things. I’m also a big fan of Ralph Rucci and own quite a few of his designs. He makes wonderful jackets. At my age, one needs to wear long sleeves.

On women artists    
I am very interested in collecting art by women, and I have been trying to get museums to do the same. Some dealers feel that women artists are a poor investment, which isn’t true. I think the fact that there are few women art collectors or museum directors also affects the progress of women artists. I have been donating some of my works by women to museums for their permanent collections with the hope of changing that attitude.

On her favorite project   
I am most proud of having founded the Studio in a School program, which helps fund arts education in public schools. It’s a wonderful organization, and it’s doing such important work. If you teach art well, it really does become a vehicle for children, not only to express themselves but to be able to recognize and understand good design. We’ve involved parents as well so they can observe the importance of the program.

On life in Kent    
I love being here; it puts serenity back in my life. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time in Connecticut: I went to schools here and lived here after I got married. I love the fact that it’s all about rocks—all the incredible stone walls. I also love the changing seasons that transform the place. It all brings me such joy.

On local art and artists   
I’m pleased to see that there are a number of local galleries that carry some wonderful artists. There are more artists working and living in the area now and I think they find the same peace and serenity that I do and it influences their work. There is an appreciation of an art culture that goes beyond painting; there are also wonderful gardens and decorative arts as well.   

On being a calendar girl  
I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Pirelli calendar. I am with one of my granddaughters and that was very special. Annie Leibovitz took the photo and it was her idea to include me. It was a way-out thing for me but it was great fun.    

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