Along with redecorating, Gund took a fresh look at her collection, which she has been amassing since the mid-Sixties. Some pieces, like Johns’s Untitled (1995), which she loaned for the recent “Jasper Johns: Gray” show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are old standbys. But others, including a James Rosenquist in the living room and a Lynda Benglis wall sculpture in the dining room, have never been installed before. “I don’t like to keep things in storage,” Gund says. “This installation has brought back very clearly in our minds how much we have in storage that is really beautiful.”
Gallerist Angela Westwater, who has known Gund for more than 30 years, seconds that notion, raving about the Rosenquist and the intriguing juxtaposition of different periods and styles, which, she says, any museum curator would do well to see. “There’s not a collector I admire more in the world,” Westwater says, adding that Gund combines knowledge with intuition and daring. “Aggie’s not one of those collectors who [says], ‘I want a Schnabel; I want a Johns.’ No. Aggie wants that Johns, that Nauman, that Bourgeois. She’s very deliberate in her choices.”
The de-installation (to allow for part of the apartment to be gutted) and reinstallation involved meticulous planning. Gund decided to give a Frank Stella star-shaped painting called Plant City, which had roosted beside the fireplace, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in memory of its late director Anne d’Harnoncourt. Getting it out, recalls Arabella Ogilvie-Makari, Gund’s longtime curator, meant unstretching it and hoisting it through a living room window and down 14 floors. Johns’s Untitled arrived home from the Met via the same crane (but through a bigger bedroom window) and took up residency where the Stella had been. The large, vibrant Marden canvas now in the dining room needed to be stretched on-site, while the Robert Rauschenberg hanging catty-corner to it, a promised gift to MoMA, required that the museum’s conservators oversee its installation. An abstract composition that Scottish artist Richard Wright had painted directly onto the dining room ceiling (there was no room on the walls) in 2001 was destroyed in the renovations; Wright graciously agreed to travel to the U.S. to re-create the piece, which he has never done before. And some of the artworks are on view by kismet: In the midst of the reinstallation, the doorbell rang; it was a man from the Smithsonian, a Joseph Cornell assemblage in hand. It had been on loan and now occupies a wall in the living room.
Gund grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the second of six children. Her father made a fortune in banking; her mother died when Gund was just 14. When her mother became sick, Gund recalls, the children were shipped off to boarding school, Gund to Miss Porter’s. “It was tough not being home,” she says. “I would never recommend that for children with an ill parent. I think it’s had a big effect on me. But anyway, that’s beside the point. I was lucky because I was older. I had a sister who had to go away at 10 years old.” The children came home for vacations, but Gund says her father, a workaholic, “didn’t really know what to do with us.” She did learn her way around the kitchen, since their housekeeper was a terrible cook. One summer Gund’s father made her work as a teller. “I kept taking them chocolate-chip cookies; it was the only way they tolerated me,” she says of her colleagues. “My manager said, ‘You never make the same mistake twice, but you make so many mistakes.’”