One of the Biggest Philanthropic Proponents of Japanese Art Keeps On Giving

What's up with Midwestern collectors starting foundations committed to promoting non-European art?

Take Ralph T. Coe, for example. Born in Cleveland in 1929, he amassed an unprecedented collection of Native American artifacts and, over time, became concerned that it would end up in a museum storage closet. So he did what any of us would do. He started his own foundation.

Then there's St. Paul-born Mary Burke. She and her husband Jackson, whom she married in 1955, began collecting Japanese art in the 1960s. The number of artworks they acquired quickly grew, and much like Coe, the Burkes soon realized they needed to establish a foundation to protect their collection. And so they did. (Mary passed away in 2012.)

All of which brings us to recent news out of New York City, where the Asia Society Museum announced it received a $2 million endowment gift from the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, named after the mother-daughter duo.

It is here that the similarities between Coe and Burke end. The former considered donating his vast collection to to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but decided against it. Burke and her heirs, meanwhile, had no qualms about establishing relationships with existing institutions.

Last March, for example, the very same Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Art announced jointly that they received "transformative bequests of masterworks" of Japanese art from the Mary Griggs Burke Collection. The collection is widely regarded as the finest and most encompassing private collection of Japanese art outside Japan.

Which brings us back to the Asia Society Museum. The Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the museum’s exhibitions, as both a lender and funder, dating back to at least 1998.

As for the new gift, the endowment, henceforth known as the Mary Griggs Burke Fund, will be used to advance the museum’s exhibition programming as well as education initiatives. Newly appointed museum director Tan Boon Hui said the fund will provide "greater capacity to deepen the scholarly research that informs each of our exhibitions and stimulate greater innovative thinking in how we can present traditional, modern, and contemporary Asian art at the Asia Society Museum."