Art Collector Sells A Lichtenstein For $165 Million To Fund Criminal Justice Reform

Jun 12, 2017
Originally published on June 12, 2017 2:29 pm

A noted art collector and philanthropist has sold a major painting for an eye-popping $165 million to raise money for criminal justice reform.

Agnes Gund sold Roy Lichtenstein's 1962 work Masterpiece, reportedly to billionaire hedge fund manager and art collector Steve Cohen. The sale apparently took place months ago; an art industry newsletter reported on the transaction in January, but Gund would not confirm it.

On Monday, The New York Times confirmed that the sale was real, noting that the painting becomes one of the 15 most expensive pieces of art known to have been sold. And the newspaper revealed that Gund sold the piece "for a specific purpose: to create a fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States."

Gund is urging other wealthy art collectors to sell prized pieces to support the effort, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

"Gund says $100 million from that sale will go to the new Art For Justice Fund, described as a 'movement to end mass incarceration,' " Elizabeth says. "Other collectors have also promised gifts of art or donations to the fund, which is being managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Partners and the Ford Foundation.

"According to a statement, the fund will support efforts to cut the prison population and strengthen programs to help people when they leave prison," Elizabeth reports.

The Times, which interviewed Gund, described what inspired the collector to start the initiative:

"Six of Ms. Gund's 12 grandchildren are African-American, and she has worried about their future as they've matured, particularly in light of shootings of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin in Florida.

" 'I have always had an extreme sensitivity to inequality,' Ms. Gund said.

"She added that she was also 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."

"The criminal justice system in its current state — particularly in its treatment of people of color — is unfair and unjust," Gund said in a statement from the Ford Foundation.

The fund will issue grants to groups and individuals working on issues of criminal justice reform.

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