By Jan Sjostrom – Daily News Arts Editor

Read Original: Palm Beach Daily News


The Norton Museum, which has been edging toward its $100 million capital campaign goal, rocketed past it last week with a $16 million donation from hedge fund billionaire and seasonal Palm Beach resident Ken Griffin.

The gift from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund — the largest cash donation in the West Palm Beach museum’s 77-year history — brings the total raised for the Norton’s Norman Foster-designed expansion to $107 million.

And that’s not all. Griffin also plans to donate an additional $4 million to endow the director’s position.

“It raises the bar that someone like Ken, who’s such a major philanthropist and collector, takes an interest in us,” said Hope Alswang, chief executive officer and executive director. “It recognizes that we’ve really done something exceptional in delivering an important and monumental building.”

Fund-raising will continue to ensure the New Norton, as it’s been dubbed, begins life as a financially robust institution, she said.

The new wing will be named the Kenneth C. Griffin Building. The retooled museum will reopen to the public Feb. 9, after its six-month closing to reinstall art and complete interior work.

ent. “It will create a wonderful opportunity for generations of Palm Beach families, students and visitors to learn about and enjoy art.”

The Foster design was key in persuading Griffin to donate, Norton officials said.

But he also has ties to Florida. He attended high school in Boca Raton.

Since 2012, he’s spent more than $250 million assembling a 17-acre estate in Palm Beach about a quarter-mile south of President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. He donated $750,000 for the construction of the town’s new recreation center, which is scheduled to break ground Wednesday.

Griffin, 49, is founder and CEO of Chicago-based Citadel. He has a net worth of $9 billion, according to Forbes.

He’s appeared on ARTnews magazine’s Top 200 Collectors list every year since 2007. He serves on the boards of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

His donations to museums include $19 million to the Art Institute of Chicago and $40 million to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as $11 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art and $16.5 million to The Field Museum in Chicago.

But, like Judie and Howard Ganek, who recently promised more than 100 contemporary artworks to the Norton, he hasn’t been a Norton patron.

The museum can thank Palm Beach resident Bruce Gendelman for changing that. Gendelman, who is first vice-chairman of the board, met Griffin in the summer of 2016 at a dinner in Aspen.

Naturally, he brought up the Norton’s expansion. “He was very polite,” Gendelman said. “He said ‘Perhaps you could send me things from time to time.’”

Gendelman obliged with occasional texts about Foster and the Norton, to which Griffin replied with polite thank-yous.

Then he got a call from Griffin’s attorney, who asked when Gendelman might be available to give Griffin a tour of the project.

“Any time you want,” Gendelman said.

On March 10, Griffin, dressed in shorts, T-shirt and sneakers, arrived for a private tour with Gendelman and Alswang. After apologizing for his informal attire — he’d been too busy to change, he said — he informed them he had only 15 minutes to spare.

“He ended up staying for at least an hour and a half,” Gendelman said.

Griffin was particularly interested in the Norton’s Night Mist, a 1945 painting by Jackson Pollock. Two years ago, he paid Hollywood magnate David Geffen $200 million for Pollock’s 1948 Number 17A in a $500 million deal that also included Willem de Kooning’s Interchange.

Griffin spoke knowledgeably about museum operations and art, Gendelman and Alswang said. But what impressed them most was how nice he was. He greeted every security guard and construction worker he was introduced to by name. The following day he sent Alswang a bouquet of flowers and a thank-you note.

“That touched me,” she said. “I’ve never had a philanthropist send me flowers after a meeting.”

She hopes this is the start of a long relationship between Griffin and the museum.