One year after founding the program, Gund went to Harvard’s Fogg Museum for a degree in art history, and by 1980, she had divorced Saalfield and moved to New York City with her four children. In just over a decade in New York, she had become the president of MoMA and a staple of the community, known for championing underrepresented voices. She has sat on a slew of museum boards since, and remains a lifetime appointee to quite a few.
Famously timid, the documentary opens with Agnes and Catherine together in the backseat of a car. “What do you think of this film?” Catherine asks her mother. “I hope that the film will not be seen by too many people,” Agnes replies. “The most challenging and fascinating aspect was trying to make a film about someone who doesn’t want to be in one,” Catherine explained. The project originally stemmed from Catherine’s desire to film a series of interviews between herself and her mother. When the first interview between them felt stale, however, she decided to bring in some interlocutors. First she brought in Agnes’s grandchildren to carry out the interviews, and eventually artists and curators started conducting them. Catherine filmed about 35 interviews in total, and used footage from just over half in the film.
“I never intended to make a film about my mother. I would prefer to just have our relationship be our relationship and not try to parse it on film or in public,” said Catherine. “What propelled me was the incredible act of her selling the [Lichtenstein] with the intention of ending mass incarceration. I thought that model was an important one for others to follow.” It’s notable that, prior to selling the Lichtenstein, the painting had hung on Agnes’s mantle for 40 years, and that Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein were very close friends of Agnes’s. “I really did have that painting settled into my life,” said Agnes. “I miss it all the time. It was almost always up except when I loaned it twice for exhibitions. But what it has gained as an object is much more than what it was.” In the three years since this momentous sale, Agnes Gund’s Lichtenstein has become the barometer for what can be accomplished when such price tags are achieved. “It’s like you throw a stone in a pool and it creates all kinds of reverberations,” she said. “This painting did that.”