“As we’ve grown up in America we’ve been conditioned to enjoy freedom, strength and vigor, humor, brevity of statement, spiritual qualities and imagination. The sculptures and paintings we have, express these values”—Albert L. Arenberg, 1961.
During their lifetimes, art connoisseurs and patrons Ann Arenberg Gips and her husband Walter F. Gips, Jr. expanded upon the collection of singular quality and breadth assembled by her parents Albert L. and Claire S. Arenberg, noted benefactors of the Art Institute of Chicago. This collection celebrated the very best in 20th Century icons – Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró and Willem de Kooning – along with masterpieces of classic American artists like David Smith, Milton Avery, Ellsworth Kelly and George Rickey. The Gips assemblage of fine art stands as a tangible legacy to a vibrant family committed to beauty, visual intellect and trailblazing ideas in all aspects of the arts and the world.
The artistic passion of Ann Arenberg Gips was built on the strong foundation laid down by her parents. Her mother Claire Strauss Arenberg was a Smith graduate who shared a love of the arts with
Ann’s father Albert. He was an electrical engineer, entrepreneur and inventor whose inquisitive mind led him to develop the concept of indirect lighting and apply it everywhere, from his home to the lighting systems his company Luminator created for nearly all trains, planes, buses and subway cars in the United States. His fine eye for design led him to the emerging world of modern art from Europe to Japan and he became the Treasurer of the Society of Contemporary American Art. His natural inclination to rethink convention drew him to a group of artists who were re-writing the orthodox narrative of art. He became particularly interested in the work of non-representational artists such as David Smith and Ellsworth Kelly, whose large-scale canvas East River, 1959, the Arenbergs donated to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968.
The Arenbergs sought the counsel of many experts in their field, developing friendships which resulted in a series of long-standing relationships with artists themselves. One such acquaintance was Katherine Kuh, the influential art historian, Saturday Review Art Critic and Art Institute of Chicago’s first Curator of Modern Painting and Sculpture. She introduced the Arenbergs to a number of artists including the leading Abstract Expressionist painter, Willem de Kooning. As Kuh discusses in her book My Love Affair with Modern Art, Mr. Arenberg and de Kooning soon became friends and Kuh helped Arenberg acquire de Kooning’s Queen of Hearts, 1943-43, an early example of the paintings that would eventually form his famed Woman series. The work was given to the Art Institute on long-term loan and eventually acquired by Joseph Hirschhorn. It subsequently became the cornerstone of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s nascent collection. Other major acquisitions by the Arenbergs included a superb example of Giacommeti’s bronze sculpture Le Chat, 1955, acquired from Galerie Maeght in Paris, and an important example of Joan Miró’s Constellations series from 1960.
Although firmly anchored in Modern and Post-War American art, the Arenbergs’ collection also encompassed art they collected from their travels around the globe. A favorite destination was Japan and they soon began collecting art from that country with the help of Japanese art expert and author Oliver Statler. They built an enviable collection which they eventually donated to the Art Institute of Chicago, including more than 100 early and rare works of the sosaku hanga (creative print) movement of the 20th century in Japan by such important artists as Onchi Koshiro, Yamaguchi Gen and Hatsuyama Shigeru, as well as 16th and 17th century landscape paintings on hanging scrolls and 20th Century Porcelain and Earthenware vessels by Rosanjin. The A.I.C. has said these works were “absolutely instrumental in building our contemporary Japanese print collection into one of the best in the world” and the collection’s importance was acknowledged as early as 1963 in the A.I.C. exhibition, Contemporary Japanese Prints: The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Albert L. Arenberg.
The Arenbergs were passionate about sharing their collections and their love of art with others—a tradition that was continued by Ann Arenberg Gips and her husband, Walter. In addition to their major donations of Ellsworth Kelly’s East River and their Japanese art collection to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Arenbergs donated Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, 1963 to the Smith College Museum of Art and Gabriele Münter’s The Blue Gable, 1911 to the Krannert Art Museum and Kinead Pavilion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They also loaned many works from their collections to various museums in order to share works from their collection with a wider audience. When not delighting audiences around the country, the Arenbergs were firm believers that their art should be lived with, and their collection provided the whole family with inspiration on a daily basis.
Ann Arenberg Gips and her husband continued the legacy begun by her parents and added works by Harry Bertoia, George Grosz and Milton Avery to the collection, while supporting a range of emerging artists. While at Wellesley, Ann met the love of her life, Walter Gips, a Yale and Harvard Business School graduate who had served as a Captain in the U.S. Army during World War II. They moved to Ann’s hometown of Highland Park, IL when Walter became CEO of Luminator and she did graduate work at the University of Chicago in social work. They began raising a family when Ann was struck with life-threatening polio, which she survived thanks to her indomitable spirit and will. They went on to raise a family of four with whom they shared their love of the arts, supporting those in need and caring about the world.
When Walter became the CEO of international electronics conglomerate Gulton Industries, Ann and Walter moved to Princeton, NJ where they both became leaders and philanthropists in numerous arts and community organizations. Walter served as the Treasurer of the American Jewish Committee, Chair of the Stonybrook Millstone Watershed Association and Trustee of the New Jersey State Museum while Ann played a leadership role with the Princeton Senior Resource Center and Friends of the New Jersey State Museum, where she co-founded their Art Lease Program. Their philanthropic reach extended from reproductive rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood to environmental groups like the Alliance for Sustainability. After retiring, Walter was highly sought after for his financial and management skills and Ann was widely seen as a welcoming, supportive icon of immense strength and independence—a “mama bear”—for all who knew her. Together, they understood the profound importance of art, culture, and supporting both the environment and those most vulnerable within the community.