Art collector flogs Lichtenstein's 'Masterpiece' to create social justice fund

Agnes Gund's will use $100m from the sale to challenge the mass incarceration of African Americans

Art collector flogs Lichtenstein's 'Masterpiece' to create social justice fund


The world of fine art is one of privilege and wealth, an inaccessible place for the marginalised. It is also a place where era-defining pieces of artistic protest can be appropriated, where artworks created in the crucible of civil unrest become pieces of high culture splashed on the walls of those they were challenging in the first place.

But sometimes pieces of protest art can be so moving that they start a wave of activism inside a person. Take, for instance, Agnes Gund, the American art collector, who recently confirmed that she had sold a painting for $165m (€147m), having decided to use the money to create a fund to support criminal justice reform.

Having fetched the high price of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 work Masterpiece, $100m from the sale will be ploughed into the Art for Justice Fund, with the express aim of reducing mass incarceration in the United States.

“This is one thing I can do before I die,” said Gund, who hopes her philanthropy will be matched by other collectors in the US.

“This is what I need to do.”

Agnes Gund at the launch of the Pirelli Calendar 2016, at the Grosvenor Hotel, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday November 30, 2015. [Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire]

Gund, a grandmother to six African-American children, says she was inspired to sell the painting and start the fund after reading Michelle Alexander’s non-fiction book The New Jim Crow, which explores mass incarceration of the African-American community through the lens of civil rights and legal frameworks.

She was also inspired by Hollywood director Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary film 13th, which also explores the issue by comparing it to the amendment to the US Constitution that outlawed slavery.

DuVernay, who recently became the first African-American woman to direct a feature film with a budget of $100m, tweeted about Gund’s decision, describing how attending the premiere of 13th had moved the art collector: