Previous generations had Vanderbilts, Guggenheims, and Whitneys. We have Agnes Gund.
As MoMA’s president emerita, “Aggie” Gund, 67, spearheaded the vaunted $858 million renovation that transformed the museum into a sleek cultural trophy—garnering critical acclaim and tourist dollars back to an art capital arguably eclipsed in recent years by Berlin, London, and Tokyo. She donated more than 150 works of art, including a favorite Jasper Johns, Between the Clock and the Bed, and a Jackie Winsor sculpture, Burnt Piece, too heavy to keep at home. But mostly, she gave her time. Gund, the multimillionaire heiress to an Ohio banking fortune and wife of lawyer Daniel Shapiro, applies an almost Puritan work ethic to her charity efforts. “I don’t want to be in-name-only for committees,” she says. “I’m at the museum every day.”
Gund proves it’s possible to be part of polite society and have guts too. After a group of 9/11 families tarred ground zero’s proposed International Freedom Center and Drawing Center with a lefty, anti-American brush, Governor Pataki pulled the plug on the project. While others were too fearful to speak out, Gund, at the risk of appearing insensitive, simply said what she believed: that allowing the families of 9/11 victims to determine the fate of ground zero was not good for the future of the city as a whole. Then she promptly resigned from the board to show she meant it, lamenting in her letter of resignation that Pataki and Senator Clinton “caved and virtually ensured that there will be no cultural component to the redevelopment.” She added, “I am afraid that the governor and those few family members have succeeded in destroying what could not be destroyed on that awful Tuesday, which is our hope.”
Not that she’s giving up hope on the city itself—far from it. “Once you have lived here,” she confesses, “it’s very hard to think of living someplace else.” Next: Because, Well, Look Around.