“AGGIE”— A Champion of Art and Life for All


A Champion of Art and Life for All

Amos Lassen

Agnes Gund is a philanthropist art collector who is President Emerita for the Museum of Modern Art. She champions artists while they’re living, visits them in their studios to better understand what moves their creations. Gund recently sold a famous Roy Lichtenstein original for $162 million, which she used to create “Art for Justice”, a foundation dedicated to penal reform with the aim of ending mass incarceration. She’s been called the “last good rich person” by the New York Times.

Gund, now in her eighties, often needs to be talked into speaking. We meet the younger Gund who shows her public persona. Today she has slowed down considerably. The film doesn’t spend much time talking about how Gund’s acts of philanthropy have changed the lives of individuals who are neither artists nor curators. Nor does it look at how Gund chooses the administrators for her charitable work, or her vetting process. Her largesse requires to ensure proper use and disbursement. There is a bit of focus on how art itself is invariably an act of political resistance and criticism but this is not the documentary’s purpose. We see several historical anecdotes showing how art inspired Gund to become curious about the larger world outside her relatively narrow experience but perhaps the aim of “Aggie” is simply to shame other wealthy collectors into parting with their personal collections in the pursuit of the kinds of social reform that our government needs. This is really  a hagiography of a human being who is seen as the kindest, the most generous and the best.

Filmmaker Catherine Gund pays tribute to her mother’s impact on the modern art world in “Aggie”. Even though she’s a millionaire art collector, Agnes Gund does not like being in the spotlight and her daughter is very aware of this. In an early scene, she asks Agnes to share her thoughts on being the subject of a film: “I really hope not too many people will see it,” she says.

There are no surprises here. The director grounds the film visually with a cascade of works of modern art so that we see what her mother  and others are talking about and this  is one of the most compelling things about the film. While it is about Aggie  it’s also about so much more: the artists she champions, the curatorial politics around decisions to purchase modern art from them and her charitable fund that promotes nationwide criminal justice reform. By the end of the movie, it feels more like a daughter’s loving tribute to her mother than anything else.

Agnes “Aggie” Gund’s life has been rather impressive.  By serving as a longtime president of the Museum of Modern Art, she has an important name in the art industry and she’s not afraid of using her name when it comes to important causes.

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