Ann Freedman: The Gift of Art
“From the moment I stepped out of Washington University [in St. Louis] and into the art world, I gifted works of art,” said Ann Freedman, president, director and founder of FreedmanArt Gallery. “I gave to Washington University even when I had no collection,” she continued, as she sat with Education Update on the second floor of her gallery, surrounded by vibrant, colorful, abstract steel wall sculptures by famed artist Frank Stella, whom she represents.
Years later, her gifts have grown proportionally and demonstrate her strong commitment to arts education. Freedman donated $30,000 to The Museum of Modern Art Learning Program for child and adult education. “It’s a remarkable institution that is in the heart of the Museum of Modern Art, and so they use that resource to do a lot of good in educating the public,” she said.
Wendy Woon, deputy director for education at MoMA, expressed the importance of Freedman’s gift to help restore the department’s original archives. According to Woon,“MoMA developed a wide range of innovative educational programs and resources that not only served generations of New Yorkers, but also was a model of progressive art education nationally and internationally.”
MoMA offers programs to diverse groups including children, teachers, individuals with disabilities and Alzheimer’s patients, and also makes their library and resources available to art students and scholars. Freedman’s donation celebrated her 30th year at Knoedler & Company. She chose The MoMA Learning Program because “they are dedicated to using the Museum of Modern Art’s collection almost like a laboratory for learning and for teaching,” she said.
Freedman has donated works from her personal collection to institutions including Yale University, Vassar College, The Morgan Library and Museum, The National Gallery of Art, The Jewish Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She carefully selects each piece she gives. “It’s a fit, it’s a marriage,” she explained. Create the right match, as Freedman has done so many times, and letters of gratitude from museum directors and university presidents arrive to express how meaningful the piece is to them. “That’s a thrill, when you see that your work of art makes a difference to the institution, to the leadership there.”
Freedman’s own art education as a painting major at Washington University in St. Louis led to a front-desk position immediately after college at André Emmerich Gallery in New York, and a promotion to sales a few years later. After only six years on the New York gallery scene, she became the first director of contemporary art at Knoedler & Company, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious galleries. Freedman served as its president and director from 1994 to 2009.
She founded her own gallery, FreedmanArt Inc., in 2010 and represents Lee Bontecou, Frank Stella and the estate of Jules Olitski. Olitski’s work is currently on display in the gallery as part of the exhibit “Caro and Olitski: Masters of Abstraction Draw the Figure,” along with some of Anthony Caro’s life drawings.
After decades in the business, she explained why she continues to love what she does, a job she describes as difficult, complex and important. “You are educating, you’re inspiring, you are opening up people’s vision in the world of culture,” she said.
But young people hoping to have a career in the business of art should not expect to represent the big names right away; in fact, they should be prepared to start at the bottom. “I started as a receptionist,” she said. “The best thing you can do is start from the ground up.”
Yet they need not fear that the value of collecting will be extinguished before they’ve risen from the ground level. Freedman calls collecting a primary urge, second only to the human need to create: “We’re hunters, we’re gatherers, so we’re collectors,” she said. “You can’t take home the symphony or the opera or the theater or the ballet, but you can take home a work of art.”
Freedman is passionate about her work and about enabling others to learn and benefit from art. She expressed her thoughts on both the business of selling art and her personal acquisition and placing of art in other institutions: “We feel we are caregivers or caretakers of our collection — art is long and life is short. You’re not going to be around forever. The art presumably, will go on for generations.” #