Marilynn Bruder Alsdorf, a lifelong Chicagoan and philanthropist known as the “queen of Chicago’s arts community,” died Aug 1, 2019. She was 94. Alsdorf and her late husband were passionate art collectors and devoted patrons of the arts, and their contributions of art collections and funding enriched some of Chicago’s most valued art institutions.
In 2006, her contributions to the Art Institute of Chicago endowed a museum curatorial position and art history professorship and made possible a renovation of the galleries for Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art, which opened in 2009.
Hundreds of pieces from the Alsdorf Collection are on display in the galleries, which are designed by Renzo Piano.
Art Institute President James Rondeau told the Chicago Tribune: “Marilynn was a true connoisseur. With true and wide ranging curiosity and knowledge, an exquisite eye, and commitment to bringing the best to Chicago, she elevated the collections of institutions around the city.”
Alsdorf also gave generously to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, according to Ed Horner Jr., a former executive vice president of the Art Institute who spoke with the Tribune
Alsdorf was born and raised on the Far North Side of Chicago. She graduated from Medill in 1946, and married Joseph Alsdorf not long after. Before the couple began collecting art, she worked briefly as a model for commercial and fashion photographers.
The Alsdorfs bought their first painting (by Amedeo Modigliani) at a Chicago auction, and began a collection known among collectors for its diversity and quality.
“She and her husband traveled the world back in the 1950s and 1960s when others were not going to Southeast Asia and places like that,” Suzanne McCullagh, former chairman of the Art Institute’s Department of Prints and Drawings, told the Tribune.
The Alsdorfs amassed an “extraordinary” and “encyclopedic” collection of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art, according to Horner. He added that although Alsdorf’s collections were diverse and eclectic, she could curate the objects so they would speak to each other.
Alsdorf also had a “great eye and great knowledge” when collecting contemporary and modern art, McCullagh told the Tribune.
Alsdorf and her husband were always eager to learn about art and artists from across the globe. After Mr. Alsdorf’s death in 1990, she remained an active collector, adding works by Mark Rothko, René Magritte, Wassily Kandinsky, Frida Kahlo and Fernand Léger, among others.
“Her vision and philanthropy can be experienced every day in the Art Institute’s Alsdorf Galleries,” Rondeau told the Tribune.
She is survived by her son Jeffrey, her daughter Lynne, and six grandchildren and fifteen great-grandchildren.