agnes gund sold a lichtenstein for $165 million to fight mass incarceration

The art collector and philanthropist was inspired by Ava DuVernay's documentary '13th.'

by Hannah Ongley
12 June 2017, 6:45pm

One of Roy Lichtenstein's most famous artworks, the satirical, prophetic Masterpiece (1962), shows a Crayola-yellow blonde lavishing praise on a hunky art world up-and-comer. ("Why, Brad darling," she gushes. "This painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you'll have all of New York clamoring for your work!")

These days, Brad isn't just the toast of the New York art world. He's also an unexpected new representative of criminal justice reform. After selling Masterpiece for a dizzying $165 million back in January, art-collecting philanthropist Agnes Gund is using the money to start a fund for reducing America's mass incarceration crisis, The New York Times reports. Gund's genius Art for Justice fund will be announced at a special event at the Museum of Modern Art tonight.

"This is one thing I can do before I die," Gund said of Art for Justice. "This is what I need to do." As the Times points out, this isn't just a big deal in the monetary sense. It's also noteworthy because it challenges other collectors to disrupt the bloated art market in the name of social justice. Gund aims to raise an additional $100 million over the next five years.

"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," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, which will help administer the fund. "Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized." Art for Justice will give grants to groups which have already scored points on reform, plus support art-related mass incarceration programs.

Gund said the idea was inspired by her African-American grandchildren, and their future prospects in a country where one in three black males is expected to go to prison. She was also moved by Michelle Alexander's 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Ava DuVernay's 2016 mass incarceration documentary 13th. DuVernay's film has become particularly vital in the age of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is gung-ho on intensifying incarceration. On Friday night, two activists projected 13th onto the walls of the Baltimore Detention Center. 

"Hard to express my feelings," DuVernay tweeted today after revealing that she met Gund at her home after the world premiere of 13th. "My heart leaps. I salute Agnes Gund. Be a warrior where you are. Anywhere you are. Agnes did. Onward."


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via Twitter

Mass Incarceration
Ava DuVernay
roy lichtenstein
agnes gund
art for justice
ava duvernay 13th