She developed her taste for the avant-garde early on. In 1979, for example, she bought a small Laib Milkstone, a piece of very polished white marble with a barely discernible rim designed to hold, as the title suggests, milk—it was a favorite of her cat’s. One day Gund was leading a group of out-of-town collectors on a tour of her collection when a man stood a little too close to the shimmery floor sculpture. “My daughter Jessica turned to me because [the milk] was seeping up his pant leg,” she recalls, adding that after she gave Milkstone to MoMA, it sat empty on Saturdays and Sundays because the unionized handlers weren’t there to change the milk, which would have spoiled if left out all weekend.
Gund became a MoMA trustee in 1976 and served as president from 1991 to 2002, during which time she shepherded the construction of the new building. “Aggie’s a ball of energy. She’s driven and she’s smart and she’s committed,” says director Glenn D. Lowry. “She was at the museum five, if not seven, days a week.” Back then, Gund notes, it was like a full-time job. Now, as president emerita, she serves on “only” 11 or 12 committees.
She remains a staunch defender of the museum, in particular the Yoshio Taniguchi edifice that opened in 2004 and has been panned by critics. Gund singles out Roberta Smith, who lamented in The New York Times that Herzog & de Meuron lost the competition for the commission, calling the art critic “wrong” and asserting that the Swiss pair’s proposal “was not good.” The Taniguchi, Gund declares, “is a gem of a building. You’ve got the greatest collection, anywhere in the world, of modern art, and [the building] enhances, it takes a backseat to the collection. And that’s what we had to do.” Gund is beloved enough that she can get away with taking a friendly jab at the rival Met uptown: “Most times you can be in [MoMA] with those 9,000, 10,000 people a day—that’s a lot of people—and not feel crowded and still not have the walk that you have to take at the Met. I’m not putting down the Met—I love the Met; I support things at the Met. But I’m usually on the run, and by the time I walk the distance that I have to go, I can’t spend any time looking at the artwork, or I’m exhausted, or I have too-high shoes on.” In another moment of partisanship, Gund bemoans that the Met landed the memorial for Rauschenberg, who died last spring. “The Modern is much more of a Rauschenberg museum,” she gripes.