BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – In September, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery received the largest single private donation to a cultural institution in the history of Buffalo. Western New York native Jeffrey Gundlach donated $42.5 million, which helped the gallery exceed its goal and raise a total of $125 million for expansion and restoration plans.
I sat down with the unique billionaire and quickly discovered his life is just as colorful as the art he spends millions on. When you look at picture’s of his humble beginnings in Western New York, even Gundlach couldn’t imagine he would become a billionaire with a net-worth of about $1.6 billion and a true art collector. As a boy growing up in Western New York art bored him. He didn’t appreciate the quality of what surrounded him when his mother took him to the Albright-Knox. He remembers loving the mirror room, which he says smelled like feet, but everything else was boring. Today he can’t get enough of art.
During my interview he answered the phone and at the time I had no idea what the call was about. I found out he was bidding on more expensive art to add to his collection.
At first you would think his love for art came from his father’s mother.
“My grandmother painted her garden. I have a painting of hers in my house on the first floor. She painted basically this scene,” Gundlach said as he showed us old pictures from a family picture book.
Gundlach says his love affair with art began because he had a lot of space to fill in his home.
“I bought a house and had empty walls so I started buying regional art from about 100 years ago, that’s called California impressionism.” “I’ve actually made three paintings in my life one is the DoubleLine Logo that hangs in our elevator lobby,” said Gundlach.
DoubleLine capital is the company Gundlach started. It currently oversees about $100 billion in assets. Before he made his made billions and developed a love for art, Gundlach gave it his best shot as a drummer in a band. When that didn’t take off in Hollywood, he applied for investment banking jobs, got an opportunity and he was so good, within five months he was overseeing about $300 million dollars in assets.
As his bank account grew so did his art collection.
He shared many stories with me but one stood out. It sounded to good to be true. At the time, Gundlach couldn’t believe what had happened. Long story short, Gundlach bought a $1.8 million dollar sculpture in London by an artist named Anish Kapoor, who also made the famous reflective bean in Chicago. If you’ve been there, you know people love taking selfies in front of its shiny silver mirror-like surface. Gundlach didn’t know what to do with the 6 foot shiny silver sculpture he bought so he decided to ask the Albright-Knox if he could lend it to the gallery. That’s when he found out the same exact sculpture used to sit in front of the Albright Knox, until the owner got rid of it and it somehow made its way to London. Gundlach looked at that as a sign, the sculpture should make its way back again to Buffalo. The story also helps explain why he made a historic donation to the arts in Buffalo.
In the next five years, the expansion and restoration process should take shape. In 2021, the Albright-Knox will also open with a new name, the Buffalo Albright-Knox Gundlach art Museum, or Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Gundlach says it will open a better museum than the famous Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
“One Buffalo comes into existence by people having actions underneath it. I’d like to think my that my little small part here, from 3,000 miles away, of creating a destination, everybody can go, we’ve got first Friday’s free and all that stuff, doesn’t matter what neighborhood you live in, the doors open,” said Gundlach.
A fourth public meeting is set to take place before the transformation plans take shape.