A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Gund's father, George Gund II, was president and chairman of Cleveland Trust when it was Ohio's largest bank. Born in 1938, she is the second oldest of six children. Two of her brothers, Gordon Gund and George Gund, partners in Gund Investment Corporation, were the former owners of the San Jose Sharks (National Hockey League) and Cleveland Cavaliers (National Basketball Association). Her brother Graham is an architect; her brother Geoff is a career teacher of economics and American history; and her sister, Louise, is a psychologist, environmentalist, woman’s activist, and philanthropist.
Agnes Gund became interested in art while a 15-year-old student at Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. "I had a magical art history teacher who didn’t just give you the artist’s name and the date of the picture, she showed you how to look at artwork," Gund said. Later Gund attended Connecticut College for Women, where she received a bachelor's degree in history. She received her master's degree in art history from Harvard’s Fogg Museum.
Gund was married to Albrecht "Brec" Saalfield, an heir to the Saalfield Publishing Company of Akron, Ohio. They had four children: David, Catherine, Jessica and Anna. After their divorce, Gund was single for some years before marrying attorney and Hunter College philosophy instructor Daniel Shapiro on June 13, 1987.
Six of Gund's twelve grandchildren are African-American. Concern for their future, particularly in light of shootings of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin in Florida, led Gund to create the Art for Justice fund.
Agnes Gund resides in New York City.
Gund joined the MoMA International Council in 1967; she then joined the Board in 1976 and served as its President from 1991 until 2002. In January 2012, Ms. Gund was appointed member of the New York State Council on the Arts. She serves on the boards of Chess in the Schools, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, and Socrates Sculpture Park, among others. She is co-founder of the Center for Curatorial Leadership and is an Honorary Trustee of the Independent Curators International and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland.
A civic leader and staunch supporter of education, women’s issues and environmental concerns, among other causes, Gund is the former Chair of the Mayor’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission of New York City and has served on the boards of such wide-ranging organizations as the J. Paul Getty Trust (1994-2006), the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, the Frick Collection, the Fund for Public Schools and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from the CUNY Graduate Center (2007), University of Illinois (2002), Brown University (1996), Kenyon College (1996), Case Western Reserve University (1995), Hamilton College (1994), and Bowdoin College (2012). She is a regular contributor on the arts to the Huffington Post.
In 1997, Gund received the National Medal of Arts from President President Bill Clinton, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government.
In January 2017, Gund sold Roy Lichtenstein"s "Masterpiece" for $165 million. From the sale, $100 million will be used to create an Art for Justice Fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States. The Art for Justice Fund will serve as a grant-making organization to support existing criminal justice reform organizations. Gund described Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary 13th about African-Americans in the prison system as motivators for starting the fund, as well as concern for her grandchildren, six of whom are African-American.
In 1977, in response to New York City’s fiscal crisis that led to budget cuts that virtually eliminated arts classes in public schools, Gund founded Studio in a School, a non-profit organization designed to bring professional artists into school and community organizations to lead classes in drawing, printmaking, painting, and sculpting, and work with teachers to link art with other academic subjects.
Now in its fourth decade, Studio in a School has introduced the visual arts to more than 800,000 students in the five boroughs, through programs in dozens of schools throughout the five boroughs. Every year, more than 80 professional artists devote some 45,000 hours to nearly 30,000 pre-k through high school students. About 90 percent of all children who participate in Studio programs come from low-income homes.
Gund has a collection of modern and contemporary art from the 1940s through the present, ranging from modern masters, including Lee Bontecou, Arshile Gorky, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, John Baldessari, Lynda Benglis, Eva Hesse, Vija Celmins, James Lee Byars, and Richard Artschwager; through cutting-edge contemporary artists, such as Teresita Fernandez, Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, Cai Guo-Qiang, Barry Ball, Glenn Ligon and David Remfry. Her personal collection of 2,000 artworks is distributed between her New York apartment and her Connecticut country house.
Her collection consists of paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints and furniture, with an exceptionally rich compilation of drawings. Her collection also includes West African and Chinese terra cottas and classical Chinese furniture. She has donated some 250 works to MoMA, numerous works to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and has given or loaned various pieces to museums around the country. Essentially all of her most valuable works that have not already been gifted are promised gifts to institutions.