The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City will receive a $131 million gift from the American Contemporary Art Foundation, a philanthropy created by cosmetics executive Leonard A. Lauder, the New York Times reports.
According to Lauder, chairman of the Est�e Lauder Companies, $125 million of the gift will be earmarked for the Whitney's endowment, boosting it from $70 million to $195 million. The gift also includes $6 million to help cover museum expenses until the donation has been finalized next summer. The gift may also quell rumors that the museum is planning to leave its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue; the Whitney announced plans last year to open a satellite museum in lower Manhattan, which stirred speculation that it might sell the building.
Although the gift is a major infusion for the historically under-endowed museum, its new endowment total still pales in comparison to those of institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, which has an $850 million endowment. In the world of museum fundraising, endowment money is always the most difficult to solicit — in part because, unlike donations for bricks-and-mortar projects, endowment gifts do not present naming opportunities.
Lauder, who is chairman of the Whitney's board, timed his gift to encourage other trustees to donate generously to the downtown project, which will be designed by architect Renzo Piano. The museum is currently in the quiet phase of the capital campaign for the project.
According to Whitney director Adam D. Weinberg, the gift will help the museum sustain its risk-taking tradition. "[For] the first time," he said, "our endowment will be large enough so that the Whitney can maintain its commitment to living artists and to adventurous programming."