David Geffen gives $100 million to MoMA but says he’s still committed to L.A.


A year after he surprised the arts world by giving $100 million to Lincoln Center, David Geffen is dropping another cool hundred million on a second New York institution, the Museum of Modern Art.

Officials at MoMA announced Thursday that the entertainment mogul is donating $100 million toward the museum’s renovation and expansion, making it the largest gift of the organization’s fund-raising campaign and one of the largest in the museum’s history.

Geffen’s donation, which is a cash gift and will be paid out over a number of years, caps a long personal relationship that the recording industry veteran has had with MoMA.


Speaking by phone from New York on Thursday, Geffen recalled that when he worked in the mail room at the William Morris talent agency in the 1960s, he and friends used to walk two blocks to have lunch at the museum’s famous sculpture garden. “It’s prophetic in a way,” he said.

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Geffen, 73, dispelled art-world chatter that he is refocusing his philanthropy and personal life on New York after decades in Southern California.

He said he remains a California tax resident and maintains residences in Malibu and in Beverly Hills, as well as in New York.

“I’ve given much more to L.A. My giving is to cultural institutions, to education and medicine. Most of my giving has been in L.A.,” he said.

Last year, Geffen gave $100 million to UCLA to help create an academy that will provide college preparatory education for L.A.-area students in grades six through 12. He has donated more than $400 million to UCLA in total, including a $200-million, unrestricted donation in 2002 to UCLA’s medical school, which was renamed after him.

He recently donated $25 million to the forthcoming museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles.

A major collector of postwar art, Geffen has loaned paintings to MoMA exhibitions over the last 25 years. He said he is friends with museum board President Marie-Josée Kravis and that she approached him about a donation.

“He’s a very decisive person,” Kravis said in an interview. “It was not a complicated discussion.”

Geffen’s $100-million gift to MoMA follows a 2005 pledge of $100 million from David Rockefeller toward the museum’s endowment.

The museum’s renovation and expansion represents one of the most significant undertakings in MoMA’s history. The overhaul will add 50,000 square feet of exhibition space. It is being designed by the architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which designed the Broad museum in downtown L.A., and will include new galleries in a Jean Nouvel-designed residential skyscraper rising next to the museum.

MoMA estimates costs will reach as much as $400 million for new construction and $45 million for renovations, with a finish date projected for 2019 or 2020. Renovations to the existing building have begun.

The project follows a major redesign of the museum in 2004 by architect Yoshio Taniguchi.

Kravis said MoMA has raised $650 million thus far for the renovations and expansion, but said the amount includes increases to the museum’s endowment.

“It will allow us to represent more of the collection and give us flexibility to present more contemporary work and performance art,” she said.

Big donations often come with naming rights. MoMA said three floors of new galleries created as part of the expansion will be named the David Geffen Wing. The fourth-floor suites of galleries in the current museum building will be named the David Geffen Galleries this spring. The naming rights for Geffen will exist in perpetuity, according to the museum.

A Brooklyn native who never completed college, Geffen made his fortune in L.A. as a music industry executive, with labels including Asylum Records and Geffen Records. He co-founded the film production company DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994.

Geffen estimates his art collection is worth more than $2 billion. He confirmed that his foundation sold two works earlier this year for $500 million, which he said will help fund his philanthropy.

“My collection of paintings is destined to be sold to give the money away, or the actual art will be given away,” he said. “I haven’t decided. It depends on the extent of the giving.”

One of his ongoing philanthropic causes is the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Geffen recently made a challenge gift to the acclaimed theater company, which he pegged at around $5 million. The gift is intended to help create an endowment for the company.

Geffen gave an initial $5-million gift in 1994 to UCLA for what was then the Westwood Playhouse, and a second $5-million gift in 2002.

Twenty years ago, the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. renamed its Little Tokyo space after Geffen in recognition of a $5-million donation. But some weren’t happy that MOCA gave away naming rights for such a relatively small amount.

Geffen’s $100-million gift to Lincoln Center last year will go toward the renovation of Avery Fisher Hall, which was renamed David Geffen Hall.

Geffen said that he plans to continue his philanthropic work in L.A., and that he foresees giving more to UCLA in the years ahead.

Geffen’s name recently surfaced in the Panama Papers, documents leaked to the media from a Panamanian law firm indicating wealthy people around the world stashed millions in offshore accounts.

“That’s nothing,” Geffen said when asked about the papers.

He said he has no accounts in Panama and that his name appeared because he sold a boat to the royal family in the United Arab Emirates.

Twitter: @davidnglat


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