directed by Catherine Gund
by Walter Chaw Agnes Gund is a fantastic person, a philanthropist art collector who sits as President Emirita for the Museum of Modern Art. She champions artists while they're living, visits them in their studios to better understand the hands that move the creations, and recently sold a famous Roy Lichtenstein original ("Masterpiece") for an ungodly sum of $162 million, which she used to create a foundation called "Art for Justice" dedicated to penal reform, with the ultimate aim of eradicating mass incarceration. She's been called the "last good rich person" by the NEW YORK TIMES and it's hard to argue, though the bar is admittedly low. The temptation is to launch into a long screed on the moral abomination of allowing such a thing as a billionaire to exist in the first place, just one of the many digressions that daughter Catherine's able, functional documentary Aggie inspires. There are moments in this film where Gund, now in her eighties, needs to be cajoled into speaking (they're played off as more of her humility), intercut with archival footage of a younger Gund demonstrating a more able public persona. She's slowed down considerably, and I wondered a time or two if she has someone to manage her estate. I worry about her, but the film does not.
Aggie also doesn't spend much time talking about how Gund's acts of philanthropy have changed the lives of individuals who are neither artists nor curators. It doesn't get into how Gund chooses the administrators for her charitable work, nor what sort of vetting process, if any, her extraordinary largesse requires to ensure proper use and disbursement. I guess it doesn't matter. The closest the movie comes to touching on these things are moments where it focuses on how art itself is invariably an act of political resistance and criticism--but in the end, Aggie is pitched at those who don't particularly need the message. I like the historical anecdotes showing how art inspired Gund to become curious about the larger world outside her relatively narrow experience. The subject is raised and dropped, alas, when the film of real interest is there. Maybe the function of Aggie is merely to shame other wealthy collectors into parting with their personal hordes in the pursuit of the kinds of social reform our government has been woefully inadequate in providing. Which is to say, it isn't that Aggie lacks purpose so much as it's a hagiography--albeit of a lovely-seeming human being--with a collection of talking heads (including John Waters) who think the title heroine is the kindest, the most generous, just the best. And there's nothing wrong with that. Programme: Documentary Premieres