Kenneth Griffin has done a great deal for the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), as the vice chairman and benefactor of the premier art museum in what had long been his home city and also the home base for his investment firm, Citadel Securities.
But he recently decided to pick up his marbles and play elsewhere—relocating his primary residence, his investment company’s headquarters and his museum-worthy art to Florida, ostensibly due to rising crime rates in the Windy City: “If people aren’t safe here, they’re not going to live here,” he said, by way of explanation for his middle-age migration to sunnier climes. “I’ve had multiple colleagues mugged at gunpoint. I’ve had a colleague stabbed on the way to work. Countless issues of burglary. I mean, that’s a really difficult backdrop with which to draw talent to your city from,” he told the Wall Street Journal in April.
Maybe so. But another powerful motivation for the move could be that Florida is “a state that doesn’t collect personal income tax,” as noted by the WSJ.
Tempering his parting shot, Griffin recently distributed what could be regarded as “consolation donations” to the Chicago charities that had depended upon his largesse, including the AIC, whose diplomatic spokesperson told me this at the end of December:
We received five million dollars from Mr. Griffin this year. He gives and loans generously and anonymously, and we respect his request for privacy.
All of this gave me traumatic flashbacks to another instance in which Griffin was on the verge of abandoning a museum where he had been a valued trustee: As CultureGrrl readers may remember, Griffin announced in July 2019 that he was quitting the board of New York’s Whitney Museum, where he had served as vice chairman, in protest against the ouster of Warren Kanders from the Whitney’s board. Only the vigorous damage-control efforts of the museum’s respected director, Adam Weinberg, known for his deft people-skills, managed to bring about the reversal of Griffin’s resignation.
At stake in the Chicago standoff was the fate of major works in Griffin’s stellar contemporary art collection. Here’s what he had told me (quoted at the end of my Virago in Chicago post) about his plans for his coveted holdings, when I chatted with him in June 2009, at the time of the opening of the AIC’s Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing (which I reviewed for the Wall Street Journal):
One day, our art collection will be in a museum. I’d like to think it will end up here [emphasis added]…
…or maybe not. In a Dec. 15 Vanity Fair article, Nate Freeman reported this:
Without fanfare, at least a billion dollars of Griffin’s art departed the second-biggest encyclopedic institution in the country [his characterization of the AIC] and ended up in [West] Palm Beach. The Norton [Museum of Art] declined to comment when asked about the new works in its collection, as did the Art Institute, but Griffin provided a statement to True Colors [Nate’s column for Vanity Fair]:
“The Norton is one of our country’s most significant[?!?] and beautiful museums,” Griffin said. “I hope South Florida families, students and visitors will enjoy and be inspired by these pieces and the thousands of works of art from all over the world displayed at the museum.”
Eat your heart out, Chicago and AIC director James Rondeau (who assumed that post in 2016):
My ruminations in my 2016 CultureGrrl post—Griffin/Geffen & the Art Institute of Chicago’s Edlis Misstep—now seem sadly prescient: I had then suggested that the deal struck by the AIC to snare the Stefan Edlis Collection could alienate other would-be donors. The museum’s press release, which called the Edlis windfall as “the largest gift of art in the museum’s history,” quoted Stefan’s triumphant takeaway:
“I have donated works of art to museums for years but have been frustrated by their lack of exposure,” said Stefan Edlis. “The fact that the Art Institute proposed keeping the works on permanent view for 50 years in the Modern Wing was a totally convincing argument for gifting the collection to the museum. Gael and I are delighted [emphasis added] that these works of art will be in the Art Institute’s long-term plans.”
Other potential benefactors, notably Griffin, might have been less than “delighted” about a plan that would seem to privilege one proud private donor over all others. Here’s what I wrote about that “Edlis Misstep”:
If Chicago hedge-fund mogul Kenneth Griffin decides he’s ready to donate his major contemporary collection to the AIC (where he serves as trustee), he may expect equal treatment [comparable to that accorded to Edlis]….For now [at the time of my February 2016 post], Griffin’s two new trophies are on display at the AIC:
According to the first paragraph of Freeman’s above-linked “Vanity Fair” report, both of the above works were among those that “were quietly taken down from the [Chicago] museum. Their whereabouts were unknown” [emphasis added]…
…or maybe their “whereabouts” are known: On Dec. 16, the day after Freeman’s article was published, Karen Ho reported in ARTnews that “several artworks from Griffin’s $1-billion collection—Mark Rothko’s ‘No. 2 (Blue, Red and Green) (Yellow, Red, Blue on Blue),’ 1953; Roy Lichtenstein masterwork, ‘Ohhh…Alright…’ (1964), an untitled Robert Ryman, Willem de Kooning’s abstract masterpiece ‘Interchange,’ and Jackson Pollock’s ‘Number 17A’—are currently on display in the museum named after [my link] 20th-century steel magnate Ralph Hubbard Norton.”
What Freeman neglected to mention in his “Vanity Fair” piece is that Griffin’s name is on the directorship of the Norton: Ghislain d’Humières (whom I tried to contact for this article) is the museum’s “Kenneth C. Griffin Director.” Four years ago, Griffin’s largesse scored another Norton naming opportunity—the 59,000-square-foot Kenneth C. Griffin Building, designed by Norman Foster:
Would it be logical to suppose that the Griffin Building may become the new home of Ken’s roving trove? If that happens, might the name of “The Norton” become “The Griffin”?
I reached out to the Citadel press office (headed by spokesperson Zia Ahmed) for comment on these developments. Thus far, I’ve received no reply. If and when I learn more, you’ll learn more.
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