The 14 Most Generous Museum Donations of 2016
See who had a few extra million dollars to spare for the arts this year.
Love it or leave it, much of the art world only stays afloat thanks to the wealth of the one percent. When big-time collectors find themselves with a surplus of art—or a few million dollars burning holes in their pockets—many find that supporting their local museum is a good way to ease the weight of their wallets, or make space on their walls. In the holiday spirit of giving, we rounded up the 14 highest-valued (non-anonymous) donations to museums this year, in cash and in art, worth anywhere from a few million to a few hundred million dollars.
1. LeBron James Gives $2.5 Million to the National Museum of African American Culture and History, Washington, DC
The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player gave two and a half million to the Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The gift—the smallest denomination on this list but not a bad chunk of change—came in support of the museum’s exhibition on boxer and activist Muhammad Ali, and put the LeBron James Family Foundation on the museum’s list of founding donors.
2. Michael Jordan gives $5 million to National Museum of African American History and Culture
Michael Jordan didn’t intend to upstage LeBron James by donating twice the dollar amount to the same museum—in fact, Jordan’s $5 million gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture came months before James’s. And in any case—unlike a basketball game—giving isn’t a competitive sport. In honor of the donation, which also came with the jersey Jordan wore to the 1996 NBA finals, the museum renamed its “Game Changers” gallery the Michael Jordan Hall.
3. Judy and Leonard Lauder give $5 million to the Portland Museum of Art, Maine
Leonard Lauder, son of Estée Lauder and chairman emeritus of her eponymous beauty empire, and his wife Judy gave the Portland Museum of Art’s endowment a serious boost in December. Their $5 million gift was intended to inspire others to embrace a generous winter spirit and donate as well to the museum, which is currently attempting to raise $15 million.
4. Daniel W. Dietrich II gives $10 million and 50 artworks to the Philadelphia Museum of Art
When philanthropist and member of the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Daniel W. Dietrich II died in September, he bequeathed the museum $10 million to support its contemporary art program. Museum director Timothy Rub called it “a real game changer.” What’s more, Dietrich also left 50 pieces of art to the museum, including work by Cy Twombly, Agnes Marten, Eva Hesse, and the museum’s very first Edward Hopper.
5. Werner Feibes gives $11 million to the Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York
The Hyde Collection, an art museum and historic home in Glens Falls, New York, more than doubled its holdings thanks to a donation of $10 million in artwork (plus $1 million cash) from the collection of Werner Feibes and his late husband and business partner, James Schmitt. The museum’s director called the donation “transformational,” and indeed, the museum now has to build a new exhibition space to house the 105-piece donation, which includes work by the likes of Jean Arp, Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ellsworth Kelly.
6. Jorge Pérez Gives $15 million to the Pérez Art Museum Miami
Sure, the real estate developer Jorge Pérez may have vested interests in the Miami Museum—he provided a gift that funded its 2013 move to a new, Herzog & de Meuron-designed building, when it took on his name. The latest $15 million gift comes in the form of $10 million in cash, to support the acquisition of Cuban and Latin American art; and $5 million worth of art from his personal collection of Cuban art. Apparently, his giving spirit isn’t satiated yet. He told the New York Times, “This is just peanuts compared to what I’ll be giving to the museum.”
7. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Give $15 milllion and 100 works on paper to the Indiana University Art Museum
The largest gift that the university museum has received since its founding in 1941, the Eskenazis’ generosity is helping the museum undergo essential renovations and maintenance work. Additionally, 100 works on paper found a new home at the museum—now known as the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art—including etchings, lithographs, and drawings by Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Keith Haring.
8. Eric and Susan Smidt give $25 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The California couple uses their self-made fortune to support the arts, and they publicly gave $25 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in hopes of encouraging others to donate, too, to help the museum reach a $475 million fundraising goal. Smidt said at the time of the donation in October, he felt “so lucky now to be able to help open [the museum’s] doors for others.”
9. J. Landis and Sharon Martin give $25 million to the Denver Art Museum
Another “transformational” gift, $25 million from the Denver Art Museum’s Board of Trustees Chairman J. Landis Martin and his wife Sharon will kickstart the institution’s expansion. A new addition to its current Gio Ponti-designed building will cost something in the neighborhood of $150 million, a commission from Fentress Architects and Machado Silvette expected to be completed by 2021.
10. Dorothy Braude Edinburg gives $35 million to the Art Institute of Chicago
Dorothy Braude Edinburg began collecting Chinese art while still in college, amassing a significant private collection until her death in 2015. She eventually developed a relationship with the Art Institute of Chicago, despite her hometown being Boston, Massachusetts, and during her lifetime donated more than 1,500 works to its holdings. She wrote the Midwestern institution into her will, a $35 million bequest intended to go towards the acquisition of new works of Asian art, drawing, and prints.
11. Jeffrey Gundlach gives $42.5 Million to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
The Albright-Knox set a new record for the largest single private donation to a Buffalo cultural institution when collector and area native Jeffrey Gundlach donated $42.5 million to the institution. The museum, which is planning an ambitious expansion and renovation, will renamed the Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum, or the Buffalo AKG Art Museum for short, in his honor. In support of the gift, New York state also agreed to chip in $15 million, plus an estimated $5 million in additional government support.
12. Elaine Wynn and A. Jerrold Perenchio give $75 million to LACMA
Collector and co-chair of the LACMA’s board of trustees Elaine Wynn teamed up with businessman, philanthropist, and art collector A. Jerrold Perenchio to pledge the largest gift in the museum’s history. The pledge went towards a $600 million expansion project, which is scheduled to begin in 2018 and finish in 2023. With $50 million coming from Wynn and $25 million from Perenchio, LACMA inched 12.5 percent closer to its ambitious fundraising goal.
13. David Geffen gives $100 million to the MoMA
New York’s Museum of Modern Art is in the midst of a $400 million expansion project, set to be completed by 2020. Geffen, the billionaire music and movie mogul, foot the bill for one quarter of the project. As recognition, the museum will name an entire new three-story wing the David Geffen Wing, besides re-naming a number of galleries on the fourth floor with his moniker.
14. Heiner and Ulla Pietzsch give $127 million art collection to Berlin
German collector couple Heiner and Ulla Pietzsch gave their entire collection—150 works of European Surrealism and American Abstract Expressionism, by artists like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Frida Kahlo—to the city of Berlin. A long time coming, the $127 million collection, once a permanent loan, was finally donated in December after the finalization of plans for the city’s upcoming Museum of Modern Art.
15. Spencer and Marlene Hays give $380 million art collection to the Musée d’Orsay
The American Francophile collectors Spencer and Marlene Hays have amassed more than 600 works by artists like Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, and the Nabi Group since beginning to collect art in the 1970s. The Hayses gave 187 works to the museum in October, and the rest of their $380 million collection will be left as a bequest—one so large it will require the museum to rearrange its library and archives to make room.
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