Agnes Gund, Prison Art’s $100,000,000 Patron

Agnes Gund at her home in Manhattan. Photo by Brad Ogbonna, courtesy The New York Times

One percenters’ unbridled social justice money, could see a boon in Contemporary Art Market for Prison Art.

In 2017, 81-year-old Agnes Gund, American philanthropist, arts patron, collector, and social justice warrior, revealed she sold her 1962 Roy Lichtenstein’s Masterpiece for $150 million. An art sale placing it among the 15 highest works ever sold. In a move unprecedented in the Prison Art world, she set aside $100,000,000 to patronize the arts behind-the-wall, and encouraged other wealthy patrons to do the same with their Fine Art paintings. On this point, others have followed her lead. Her Art For Justice Fund is a five-year initiative that aims to turn art into action. Believing in the enduring power of art to call for change, the Fund will invest more than $100 million into strategic efforts to reform the criminal justice system to expose injustice, and to empower communities.

Hip Hop and the 1%

NBA, Philadelphia 76ers owner, Michael Rubin; NFL, New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft; Hip-Hop Royalty, Jay-Z; and South Philadelphia Rapper, Meek Mills. Photo, courtesy of Instagram.

In 2019, Hip Hop leadership was able to get buy in from America’s 1% to create a $50,000,000 fund for criminal justice reform. REFORM Alliance is a $50,000,000 fund to dramatically reduce the number of people who are under the control of the criminal justice system. The Fund will do so by changing laws, policies, and practices that perpetuate injustice. Key to its strategy is to change hearts and minds. By allying influential leaders in business, government, entertainment, sports, and culture, to use their shared resources, energy, and platforms for massive impact. The Fund’s initial focus will be disabling the revolving door of probation and parole.

There is no doubt, Criminal Justice Reform has become the cause cèlébre for the 1% of America’s top wage and investment income earners.

Kim Kardashian-West at the White House on Criminal Justice Reform. Photo courtesy of Fox News

In order to do so, the 1% must rely on the Prisoner’s Voice, and the Prisoner’s Voice is best reflected through art. For years, grassroots activists have relied on Prison Art as a primary method of raising funds for legislative reform, prison reentry programs, and to support families with loved ones behind bars. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles through its two restorative justice ministries, Homeboy Industries and Partnership for Re-Entry Program (PREP), has been using Prison Art as a funding source for years. The significance of Hip-Hop dragging the one percenters into this arena, is Hip-Hop’s relationship to Graffiti. Graffiti is one of the four original elements of Hip Hop culture. The four distinct elements are, MCing (oral), turntablism or DJing (aural), b-boying (physical), and graffiti (visual). Because Graffiti is a criminal form of art, the defacing of someone’s property, it had to find a legal outlet to express itself. This gave birth to Street Art. However, it was the Graffiti being done behind-the-wall that birthed the Graffiti movement in America. The father of the American Graffiti movement is Daryl “Cornbread” McCray. Cornbread was exposed to Graffiti while in a juvenile prison. There he honed his craft and acquired his artist name, Cornbread. It will only be a matter of time before the 1% begin to throw their financial weight into the Prison Art market. The hottest artist in the art market come from the Graffiti/Street Art world, and when collectors grasp these artforms are foundationally from the Prison Art world, 1-percenter’s money will begin to flow in that direction. According to, the Contemporary Art Market is the perfect playground for investors. The wealthiest pay top billing for works by artists (usually American) whose prices inflate at a phenomenal pace, generating capital gains measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions. The most sought-after artists are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Christopher Wool, Mark Bradford and Richard Prince. In 2018, no less than 20 of the 100 best results went to Basquiat. He remains the Contemporary Market’s primary economic pillar. Several Chinese artists have also performed well, driven by a domestic market motivated by competition with the American Art Market. The 100 best results for Contemporary Art in 2018 contained twenty results from Chinese artists with Chen Yifei’s, $22.6 million at the top of the list.

On the 9th of December, 2019, in the California Bay Area, a Prison Art auction to raise funds for two national prisoner newsprint publications, the California Prison Focus, and the San Francisco Bay View will be taking place. One such donated work will be from an American Prisoner Artist with a Chinese Artist connection. In 2017, Google Search Engine results put Prisoner Artist Donald “C-Note” Hooker second to Former Chinese Prisoner and dissident, Ai Weiwei, as America’s most prolific Prisoner Artist. Ai Weiwei’s works sell in the 7-figures.

Google’s 2017 search engine results as to who was the most prolific Prisoner Artist in America. Former Prisoner and Chinese Artist was listed Number 1, American Prisoner Artist, Donald “C-Note” Hooker, was listed Number 2.

To prove the American and Chinese economic behemoths rule the Contemporary Art World, by comparison, the highest art sale for British Graffiti Artist Banksy was a low 8-figure ($12,000,000).

Google Search image results, with photo of Prisoner Artist, Donald “C-Note” Hooker, next to photo of Rappers, Jay-Z & Meek Mills

Google’s entire product line is based on predictive behavior. By linking this one Prisoner Artist, C-Note, with seven-figure plus artists, like Jay-Z, Meek Mills, and Ai Weiwei, this may be a predictive signal of an investment opportunity of someone’s lifetime. [See our Editor’s Note on the Artprice investment profile return, on African-American, Graffiti Artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.]

(Fundraiser for the National Prisoner Press)

Saturday, December 9th, 4-7 p.m.
Queen Memorial Church of God in Christ
1324 E. 24th St.
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 532-2752

[Editor’s Note]: In 2018, Artprice reported, Jean-Michel Basquiat fetched more than $45 million at Phillips in New York. A year earlier, another Basquiat crossed the $100 million threshold, the first-ever 8-digit result for a Contemporary artwork. Fetching $110.5 million, the 1982 Untitled painting was acquired for $20,900 in 1984, which means its value multiplied by 5,300 times in 33 years. As the prices of Basquiat’s paintings have rocketed, so have the prices of his drawings: +2,000% in 20 years. When the artist died in 1988, his best works were still available below the $100,000 threshold… and his prices were already on a steep ascent. For $100,000 today you will only get a small drawing, usually in felt-tip pen, devoid of the expressive colour that adds so much to his work. With an index up +1,880% since 2000 and an annual turnover this past year of $256 million, Basquiat remains the absolute leader of the Contemporary Art Market.