The Glenstone Foundation, which supports the private Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, received a $1.9bn donation from its co-founder, the collector Mitchell Rales. The extraordinary sum—one of the largest-ever gifts to the arts—increases the foundation’s total net assets to $4.6bn, which is nearly equivalent to that of the most-visited museum in North America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the gift.
The contemporary art museum near Washington, DC houses the collection of Mitchell, the co-founder of the conglomerate Danaher Corp whose personal net worth as of this writing is $5.6bn, according to Forbes, and his wife Emily Wei Rales, who co-founded the institution in 2006. The couple lives on the surrounding property, which covers 230 acres of natural pasture and woodland overseen by the foundation.
The endowment, disclosed in the museum’s 2021 tax return, assures Glenstone’s future as a cultural destination. Bloomberg reported that it has so far helped to fund operating costs, maintenance and acquisitions, and that the foundation recently made multimillion-dollar donations to other institutions, including the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Tickets to Glenstone are notably free, granting admission to airy, minimalist pavilions that provide generous viewing space to works by collection artists including Cy Twombly, Roni Horn and Doris Salcedo. Outdoors, visitors encounter various forms of sculpture, from Jeff Koons’s living garden Split-Rocker (2000) to Richard Serra’s Sylvester (2001), one of Serra’s room-sized, spiral steel sculptures.
As one of the world’s largest private museums, Glenstone has previously drawn scrutiny over its tax-exempt status. In 2015, it was one of 11 institutions included in a Senate enquiry that questioned whether such private museums serve their founders, who can reap tax benefits, more than the public. Private museums can be difficult to access in terms of their opening hours, location and entry costs. The Raleses told The Art Newspaper in 2018, on the occasion of a $200m expansion, that their foundation “did not deserve to be in that category”, and that they were working on increasing visitor attendance by expanding their hours from four to five or six days a week. The museum is currently open between Thursday and Sunday.
The $1.9bn gift will enable Glenstone to continue introducing new projects to the campus, such as a recent custom-designed pavilion dedicated to Serra’s sculptures. It will also ensure that its founders’ successors will be able to build on their legacy through acquisitions—limited to works by artists already represented in the collection, and only during the artists’ lifetimes, according to the Raleses’ instructions.
“We recognise that we have the time and the resources to be able to deliver an artist’s vision, more so than other institutions can,” Emily Wei Rales previously told The Art Newspaper.