Queer filmmaker Catherine Gund has a history of choosing fascinating LGBT topics for her documentaries.
A groundbreaking Mexican lesbian musical icon (“Chavela”), a gay performance artist (“Hallelujah! Ron Athey: A Story of Deliverance”), a pair of lesbian moms (“Making Grace”) and a lesbian choreographer (“Born To Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity”), are just a few of her doc subjects.
For her latest film, Gund shifts gears and gets somewhat personal with “Aggie” (Strand Releasing), which is about her mother, the art collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund. Of course, Catherine Gund isn’t the only filmmaker this year to turn her camera on a parent (as well as herself). Rachel Mason did it in her “Circus of Books.”
But “Aggie” feels different. It’s probably the subject matter — the New York art world as opposed to an adult bookstore in Los Angeles. Opening with a quote from Ava DuVernay (“Art requires imagination and justice does as well”), followed by a news story regarding Agnes Gund’s $165 million sales of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 “Masterpiece,” in order to start the mass-incarceration-combating Art for Justice Fund, director Gund sets the tone for what follows.
Director and daughter Catherine appears a few times in the movie, but she wisely chose an exceptional array of interviewers to get Agnes to talk about herself. Those interviewers include some of Agnes’ grandchildren, along with John Waters, Anna Temkin (MoMA’s chief curator of Painting and Sculpture), lesbian photographer Catherine Opie, Dorothy Lichtenstein (widow of Roy Lichtenstein), Agnes’s curator Nicole Gallo, gay artist Glenn Ligon, Agnes’ former Chief of Staff Jamie Bennett (now the E.D. of ArtPlace), filmmaker Abigail Disney and journalist Maria Hinojosa, among others.
Agnes, who credits a high school teacher with exposing her to modern art when she was growing up outside of Cleveland, could see how joy could be derived from seeing art. Her instinctive connection to art provided her with a sharp eye for collecting. It also led her to connect with a variety of artists, including the aforementioned Lichtenstein, as well as Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Bourgeois, Mark Rothko and Teresita Fernández, to name a few. Agnes herself is credited with founding the Studio in a School program in the New York City Public School system, in addition to fighting for diversity during her 11 years as president of MoMA. Additionally, Gund, made a name for herself as an activist, joining PFLAG and becoming a supporter of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, among other causes. The very definition of a living legend, Agnes Gund gets the tribute she deserves in “Aggie.”
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.