A Closer Look at Lannan Foundation's $750,000 Matching Grant to the Chinati Foundation

As we've noted elsewhere on the site, the Santa Fe-based Lannan Foundation supports contemporary artists who, aesthetically speaking, are "exceptional." Logistically speaking, the artist must be in the "mid- to senior" stage of his or her career. Both of these qualifications are subjective, but the Lannan Foundation doesn't explain them further.

Of course, we can always draw inferences about what Lannan is looking for based on how it hands out money, and today we'd like to do just that.

The Marfa, Texas-based Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum founded by artist Donald Judd, has met a challenge grant from the Lannan Foundation to raise $750,000 in funds for Chinati’s Robert Irwin project.

Irwin's project is a large-scale installation that has been in development for many years. Plans for the project are now complete, and thanks to Lannan's cash infusion, construction will begin this year with an anticipated 2016 opening.

The project's a doozy. Irwin, who turned 86 this year, is widely recognized as one of the most innovative and respected artists of the modern era. The installation at Chinati—a large, U-shaped construction approximately 10,000 square feet—will be the only freestanding structure designed by Irwin and devoted exclusively to his work. (You can see the actual plans here.)

Clearly, the project's scope resonated with donors. "We had three short months to meet the Lannan match deadline before the end of 2014," said Jenny Moore, executive director. "This was a tremendous opportunity from Lannan and we are especially grateful to the forty-five individuals and foundations who quickly stepped forward with great generosity to help us achieve this fundraising goal."

Additional support for the project came from Vernon and Amy Faulconer of Dallas, who donated $500,000 to the Irwin project and $500,000 to support general operations at Chinati.

The takeaway from Lannan's give is two-fold. Firstly, it's consistent. Having cross-checked Lannan's aforementioned criteria for visual artists, Irwin's work, at least from our vantage point, seems aesthetically exceptional. That's a no-brainer. And at 86 years young, he fits into the "mid- to senior" stage of his career.

Secondly, Lannan likes ambitious work. Judging from our funder profile on the foundation, where we listed a handful of previous gifts, that may not be intuitively obvious. The gifts we profiled—support to the Santa Fe Art Institute for general operation expenses, money to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin for its exhibition and publication of Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt—are compelling, but lack the bravado and gravitas of Irwin's project.