Former Microsoft president Jon Shirley and his wife Kim will donate their 48-piece collection of works by sculptor Alexander Calder to the Seattle Art Museum, the museum announced in a statement yesterday (April 4).
In addition to the collection, which has an estimated value of $200 million, the Shirleys plan to give the museum a $10 million endowment and annual gifts of $250,000 to $500,000 to support programs, events and Calder-related research.
Calder, who died in 1976, is known as “the most acclaimed and influential sculptor of our time,” particularly renowned for his invention of the mobile and his innovative three-dimensional wire sculptures, according to the Seattle Art Museum.
“I first fell in love with Calder as a young man, creating a passion that has only grown with time,” said Shirley in a statement. “From the moment I bought my first work 35 years ago, I treasured the experience of living with Calder and from that point built my collection very intentionally.”
Before becoming an executive at Microsoft, Shirley worked at Radio Shack, later acquired by the Tandy Corporation, for 25 years and eventually became vice president of computer merchandising. While at Radio Shack, Shirley occasionally worked with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, with the two collaborating on a model of hand-held computers.
In 1983, Shirley became president, chief operating officer and a director at Microsoft, where he remained until 1990 and was credited for propelling the company’s significant growth during that time period. He stepped down from Microsoft’s board in 2008 after joining more than 20 years earlier, longer than anyone besides Bill Gates and venture capitalist David Marquardt.
Why the Seattle Art Museum?
While the estate of the late Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder, decided to auction off his art collection in a record-breaking $1.5 billion Christie’s auction in November, Shirley has instead opted to donate his vast collection to a museum.
Shirley’s works heading to the Seattle Art Museum include Calder’s 1947 sculptures Gamma and Bougainvillier, in addition to the 1942 Fish, one of Calder’s fish mobiles made during World War II.
The Shirleys will also donate their private library of 85 publications and books about Calder. The museum will present an inaugural exhibition in November featuring the 48 Calder works, while a 2024 exhibition will emphasize his impact and legacy and subsequent shows plan to examine his work through historical eras in his career, according to the Seattle Art Museum.
“In truth, we’ve lost sight of the enormous artistic innovations that he was responsible for—from pioneering wire sculpture to inventing the mobile—and the tremendous impact he has had on artists of the 20th and 21st century,” said Amanda Cruz, CEO of the Seattle Art Museum, in a statement. “The extraordinary generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley allows us to explore the many facets of this creative genius.”
Shirley, who is also an avid collector of vintage cars, has long been affiliated with the Seattle Art Museum. Shirley and his late wife Mary helped found the museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle’s largest green space, in 2007.
Shirley donated to the park’s endowment to ensure it would be permanently free, in addition to helping the Seattle Art Museum acquire Calder’s 1971 Eagle sculpture in 2000, which is now displayed at the park. He also endowed the museum’s curatorial position of modern and contemporary art.
Both Jon and Kim Shirley are currently trustees at the Seattle Art Museum, with Jon previously serving as chairman of the board from 2000 to 2008.
Shirley is a member of the David Rockefeller Council and the Museum of Modern Art’s international council, while Kim, who he married in 2016, is a trustee at the Tate Americas Foundation and the University of Washington Foundation. In 2020, the couple raised $27 million for the “All in Seattle” initiative, which helped those struggling economically during the coronavirus pandemic.