The David Rockefeller Estate Just Gave MoMA $200 Million—the Museum’s Biggest Donation Ever

Rockefeller previously gave a record $100 million to the museum in 2005.

David in Rockefeller Plaza, April 1982. Image © Rockefeller Archive Center.
David Rockefeller at Rockefeller Plaza, April 1982. Image © Rockefeller Archive Center. Courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center 2018.

It’s a big day for New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In addition to announcing plans to close in June to give curatorial staff ample time to complete a total overhaul of the collection, adding close to 1,000 works to the display, the museum has also received a record-breaking gift of $200 million from the estate of longtime trustee David Rockefeller.

The last living grandson of oil baron John D. Rockefeller, Rockefeller died at age 101 in 2017. Selections from his art collection, once estimated to contain 15,000 works, were auctioned off last May at Christie’s New York for a record total of $646 million at a single auction, with $835 million in sales overall.

Rockefeller’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was one of the founders of MoMA in 1929, and he carried on her legacy, serving as the institution’s chairman and one of its foremost supporters. He was on the museum board from 1948 until his death, and made numerous gifts to the institution.

When Rockefeller gave the museum $100 million in 2005, it was the largest donation in MoMA’s history. Billionaire collector and philanthropist David Geffen matched that offering in 2016, but with the new gift from the estate, partly financed by last year’s auction results, Rockefeller again stands alone.

Philanthropist David Rockefeller in 2002 in New York City. Photo by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images.

Philanthropist David Rockefeller in 2002 in New York City. Photo by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images.

The museum’s directorship has been renamed in Rockefeller’s honor in recognition of the gift. “It’s an energizing and fitting tribute to celebrate David’s vision and passion for the museum’s mission and its collection,” MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry said in a statement.

Rockefeller began collecting under the guidance of MoMA founding director Alfred Barr. Today, the museum owns pieces by Pablo PicassoPaul CézannePaul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse, among other artists, donated by Rockefeller. In addition to his impressive holdings in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as furniture, porcelain, and other decorative art objects, Rockefeller’s collection later grew to include Abstract Expressionist art.


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