“Aggie” is director Cat Gund’s affectionate tribute to her mother, philanthropist and arts patron Agnes Gund, and an understated challenge to the world’s wealthiest to do more with their money.
The MoMA hosted the New York premiere of Aggie as part of its Doc Fortnight series on Tuesday evening. Director Cat Gund introduced the film and participated in a post-screening Q&A with her mother and subject of the film Agnes Gund.
It was a homecoming of sorts for Aggie, as her friends and colleagues call her. She serves as President Emerita of MoMA and Chairman of its International Council. Despite her contributions to the museum, she never would have asked for such an event.
As documented in the film, Aggie is famously averse to fame, a tension she’s faced all her life as an agent of social change and justice. She started out as an arts patron in the 60s, supporting and befriending artists like Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly. As her reach and reputation in the art world grew, broader issues caught her attention and she refused to let them go.
Over the years Aggie has been a staunch and dedicated supporter of arts education in public schools, AIDS advocacy and research, abortion rights, and prison reform. But she’s never placed herself in the limelight, taking every opportunity she can to turn the attention back to the artists, or to her fellow advocates.
Aggie’s wealth stems from her father’s inheritance, and from the selling of art she’s collected. Most recently, she sent ripples through the art world by selling her 1962 Roy Lichtenstein “Masterpiece” to a private collector for over $150 million to create the Art for Justice Fund. The organization works to reform the criminal justice system in concrete, strategy-driven ways.
It feels odd at first to lavish such attention on someone blessed with resources using some of those resources for good. Wouldn’t we all do the same? But Aggie’s compassionate response to news of languishing public arts programs, the AIDS epidemic, and unarmed police shootings are in fact a rarity among her class. From what we learn in the film, her father probably wouldn’t approve of all the ways she’s chosen to give away her money.
That’s why Aggie ultimately represents a challenge to the world’s rich. This humble wealthy person demonstrates the range of positive change money can spur when put into the right hands. What could possibly be preventing her fellow millionaires from accomplishing as much or more?
The film itself follows a simple format, tracing Aggie’s lifetime accomplishments at a steady pace. It’s a wonderful tribute from a daughter to her mother, but it doesn’t tell us much about Aggie we don’t already know.
At the post-screening Q&A we got to see that wry, camera-shy persona in real life. While Cat riffed off the moderator’s questions with warm smiles and chuckles, Aggie gave short statements and struggled to track her head movements with the microphone. Despite a life spent in the public eye and countless hours of interview experience, Aggie’s attention seems elsewhere, perhaps to her next great cause.
You can learn more about the film here.