Three Takeaways From a Record $40 Million Give to the MoMA

Early last year, we published a donor profile on hedge fund manager and philanthropist Kenneth Griffin, whose net worth at the time stood at a cool $5.5 billion. 

Through the Kenneth & Anne Griffin Foundation, which he established with his wife, Griffin gave millions to a variety of education, healthcare, community development, and arts-related causes. But the foundation was set to fold—a casualty of the split between Kenneth and Anne—and many in the philanthropy world wondered how that would affect his giving.

The short answer? Not that much.

Griffin has only grown richer, as tends to be the case with hedge fund guys—his fortune now approaches $7 billion. And recently, he gave what amounts to one of the largest monetary gifts in the history of the Museum of Modern Art—a $40 million unrestricted donation. As a result, Griffin's name will now grace one of MoMA's most iconic buildings, the 1964 black steel-and-glass East Wing.

So what to make of it all?

First, the gift symbolizes Griffin's strengthened commitment to arts funding. As we've previously noted, his love affair with art is well documented. His personal art collection includes Jasper John's $80 million "False Start" and Paul Cézanne's $60.5 million "Curtain, Jug, and Fruit Bowl." He donated $19 million to create the Modern Wing at the Chicago Art Institute in 2006, and made regular contributions to the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art throughout the 2000s. 

The Griffin Foundation did not disclose the dollar amounts for other art-related grants, including one for a de Kooning exhibition at the MoMA, which made us wonder if the figure didn't stack up to his previous impressive gifts or if his priorities were shifting. Needless to say, $10 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in early 2015, plus a fresh $40 million to the MoMA, has dispelled any confusion.

Secondly, the gift confirms what Griffin's camp told the public at the outset. In the wake of the Kenneth & Anne Griffin Foundation's dissolution, future giving would be consolidated and administered through the Kenneth G. Griffin Charitable Fund.

Lastly, we'd like to call your attention to yet another previous IP post, in which we asked if museums' love affair with the "Bilbao Effect"—the idea that an architecturally exciting project makes an institution more of a destination—created an unsustainable funding model. However, since the Griffin gift is an unrestricted donation, rather than one earmarked for costly and high-risk capital expenditures, we can assume the MoMA won't be getting sucked into the "Feed the Beast" vortex, right?

Well, not so fast. The MoMA is in the midst of an ambitious and controversial expansion effort that includes, among other things, razing its next-door neighbor, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum, and adding more than 30 percent more gallery space. As of November 2015, the price tage for the expansion stood at $93 million.

At $40 million, Griffin's unrestricted gift gets them almost halfway there.