Agnes Gund is an art collector who sold her prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein Masterpiece for $150 million, one of the 15 highest-known prices ever paid for artwork, in order to start a fund that supports criminal-justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.
Gund, who is president emerita of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, started the new Art for Justice Fund using $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein sale, the New York Times reports. The fund will make grants to organizations that have an established track record in criminal-justice reform and seek to safely reduce jail and prison populations across the country, as well as strengthen education and employment opportunities for former inmates.
Gund, 78, told the Times: “This is one thing I can do before I die. This is what I need to do.”
The fund is personal for Gund. Six of her 12 grandchildren are black, and she told the Times she has worried about their futures, particularly in light of the shootings of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin in Florida.
“I have always had an extreme sensitivity to inequality,” Gund said.
Gund added that she was deeply affected by Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and by Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, 13th, about African Americans in the prison system.
After watching 13th, Gund worked with her friend Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, to set up the fund, which will use the proceeds from the art sales of other collectors to champion social causes.
“The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” Walker said. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.”
Financier and collector Donald Marron, MoMA’s president emeritus, told the Times that he would support the fund—though probably not through the sale of his art—and commended 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,” Marron said. “That’s a model I hope other people will follow.”
Read more at the New York Times.