From the Hedge Fund to the Gallery: Kenneth Griffin’s Love Affair with Art

Kenneth Griffin has a taste for art with large price tags. His personal art collection includes Jasper John's $80 million False Start and Paul Cézanne's $60.5 million Curtain, Jug, and Fruit Bowl. Fortunately, Griffin's love of art extends to his philanthropy giving as well. He donated $19 million to help 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.

In a New York Times interview, Griffin noted that he and his wife have a special bond with the Art Institute…they had one of their first dates there. "For us, our relationship with this great, encyclopedic museum can be described as 'love at first sight,'" he has said.

After much success in the hedge fund industry, Kenneth Griffin and his wife started The Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation to put their extreme wealth to good use. In 2008, they teamed up with South Korean Min S. Lee, who is the Foundation's Director of Philanthropic Initiatives and advisor on the husband-wife team's philanthropic endeavors. But despite their publicity, the Griffins are a pretty private couple. The figures quoted above are an exception to the rule, as the Griffins are hesitant to disclose the dollar amounts of their recent art purchases and their art grants. (See Grants for Visual Arts). Unlike many philanthropic foundations, they don't even feature list of awarded grant amounts on their website.

Despite his love affair with art, Griffin has been focusing more on politics and education in recent years. In 2012, Griffin gave $150,000 to support Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and over $560,000 to the Republican Governor's Association. "I spend way too much of my time thinking about politics these days because government is way too involved in financial markets these days," he said in a rare interview. The $10 million grant to the Chicago Heights Early Childhood Education Center surely dipped into their art giving budget as well. 

In 2012, The Griffin Foundation did give grant money to the "Emergency Grants" program organized by the New York-based Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Since 1993, the Emergency Grants program has provided quick funding for performance and visual artists who receive an unexpected opportunity to show their work or who experience unbudgeted expenses while completing a project. The Griffin Foundation also gave a grant to a 2011/2012 Museum of Modern Art exhibition titled, de Kooning: A Retrospective. The amounts of Griffin's grants were not publically disclosed for either of those projects.

Is Griffin's love for art waning, or are his priorities simply shifting? Is Griffin refusing to disclose the amount of his recent art grants because the amounts aren't as high as they used to be? Only time will tell, as the 2013 grant money starts rolling out. That is, of course, only if the Griffins decide to make their contributions public information.