Most dog owners train their pets not to beg at the table, jump up on guests or bark at the mail carrier. But Tina and Giotto, both Wheaten Terriers, are art-trained dogs, and being that their mistress is Agnes Gund, they’d better be. They know not to wag their tails too close to the Christo sculpture or to even think about lifting a leg over the Louise Bourgeois totem, tempting as it may be. The fluffy beige canines miraculously avoid crashing into the ancient Chinese and African sculptures collected by Gund’s second husband, lawyer Daniel Shapiro (from whom she is now separated), and clustered on pedestals. More astounding, they disturb not one grain of rice poured in piles on a slab of marble in a floor work by Wolfgang Laib, even while alternating between barking, snarling, growling and nearly mauling each other, which Gund waves off as “playing.” “They are my favorite beings, those dogs,” she says. “But we have a problem that they do get very excited.”
In her feminine floral dress, pearl button earrings and mammoth brooch, her hair coiffed and sprayed, Gund, 70, is a study in patrician elegance with a healthy dose of quirky flair. After striding into her spacious Park Avenue living room, she sits down on a new banquette, designed by Kristen McGinnis, her 33-year-old decorator. On a table in front of her is a grouping of small Bourgeois pieces along with Jasper Johns’s sculpture of a flashlight, which she has promised to the Museum of Modern Art because, she says, “I was aghast that the Modern had no sculpture of Jasper’s.” Many of the other works around are also promised gifts, either officially or in her mind. The sensational 1963 Map painting hanging behind the sofa, a rare example in private hands, is likely bound for her hometown museum. “They pretty much know they’re getting it in Cleveland,” she says with a shrug.
Without a doubt, the art is the star of the show here. And it is Gund—who spent 11 years as the tireless president of MoMA, has been a pivotal philanthropist in art as well as education, and is a prominent collector with a trove of some 1,400 works that meander from Rothko to Rauschenberg and Richter—who directs its selection. It fell to McGinnis to unclutter the furniture and redesign the lighting to let the Arshile Gorky and the Sol LeWitt, the Brice Marden and the Roy Lichtenstein shine. “It’s about Aggie,” says McGinnis, a sunny blond. “It’s about the art.” With four children and 11 grandchildren (not to mention the dogs), Gund likes a cozy, lived-in look, but she also entertains nonstop—her apartment is the Grand Central station of the art world. Gund, McGinnis explains, “is very, very practical. She didn’t want anything that people couldn’t sit on.” What evolved was an inviting, serene scheme dominated by early-20th-century French furniture. Clean lines and a muted palette prevail but with some unexpected, bold touches, like the deep blue walls in the dining room.