Old World Meets New Money: Behind a New Foundation Focused on Art Scholarship

The launch of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute (WPI) suggests that despite work by other foundations, there's still a void in the art scholarship space. Rolled out in early November, the institute is dedicated to "advancing art historical scholarship and fostering the accessibility, cataloguing, and digitization of primary sources." 

Needless to say, some prominent, deep-pocketed individuals—Guy Wildenstein and Hasso Plattner—are behind this new foundation.

The Wildenstein family's involvement in the art world dates back to the end of the 19th century when Nathan Wildenstein founded the Paris-based Wildenstein Institute library.  Under the leadership of Nathan's successor, his son Georges Wildenstein, the library turned into a research library.

Georges then handed the reigns over to his son Daniel Wildenstein, who fled France to the US following the German occupation during World War II. Daniel's son Guy was born in New York City in 1945.

After his father's death in 2001, Guy assumed managing control of the family art business, leaving his brother Alec to concentrate on the family's other interests, namely horse racing and breeding operations. Alec died in 2008 leaving Guy in charge of both businesses. His current title is president of Wildenstein & Company.

Add it all up and according the UK's Times, the size of his share of the family fortune and trusts is in the $5 billion to $10 billion range.

Hasso Plattner, meanwhile, is a German businessman and co-founder of SAP SE software company. As of November 2016, Forbes reported that he had a net worth of $10.8 billion. An international benefactor of arts and education, he signed the Giving Pledge in February 2013.

So what can the global art world expect from the Wildenstein Plattner Institute?

Among the WPI’s first major initiatives will be the launch of its publishing imprint with the publication of the Jasper Johns catalogue raisonné of painting and sculpture. The volume is authored by Dr. Roberta Bernstein, author of Jasper Johns’s Paintings and Sculptures, 1954‐74: The Changing Focus of the Eye, which is regarded as the most comprehensive study of the first 20 years of the artist’s career. Conceived and initiated by Guy Wildenstein himself, the project is being produced in close collaboration with the artist.

The WPI is also developing a long-term strategy and implementation plan to digitize primary source materials and establish a robust digital inventory that will support new research and increase the accessibility of these materials to scholars.

The foundation and its first initiative reminds us of Getty's Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI), an ambitious project started in 2009 that aims to transition museums to the digital age by publishing scholarly collection catalogs online. Getty recently announced its support for the Art Institute of Chicago's "Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago," a scholarly catalog covering 47 paintings and drawings by the famous French Impressionist.