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CURRENT COLUMN

The Case of the Olympic Posters
The Case of the Olympic Posters

The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
The Case of the Solitary Surrealist

The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt
The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt

The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity
The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity

The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys
The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys

The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

Aficionado
The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

Portrait
The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

Potter
The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials


Confessions Back

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art
jim_finlay@telus.net

Chapter 30. The Case of Debatable Donations

I was recently involved in appraising artworks by several well-known artists which were slated for donation to private and publicly funded art museums and galleries. I began to wonder, albeit in hindsight and naively, about how and why works of art are chosen by major public and private galleries.

The Case of Debatable Donations

Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo, Raising La Mama Grande [detail] (2009), mixed media drawing [Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge AB, Jan 15-Mar 6]

Why do contemporary artists donate their work and why do serious collectors donate their collections? Why do major museums appear to have in their collections all the great works by great artists? One would like to think that reasons for donating are based on admirable philanthropic principles, generosity of spirit and a desire to “give back to the community,” but it seems obvious that there might be more agenda-driven motivations.

Consider, for example, a wealthy collector and philanthropist who plans to eventually leave his important collection to a major art institution. One wonders how the collection was built and why an institution would welcome it. One also wonders if such a planned donation is linked to a purposeful shaping of an institution’s permanent collection and if contributing to the critical and financial success of a particular artist is a factor. A significant donation would also elevate the institution’s international profile and career trajectory of its curators, historians and art managers. How does all of this affect our collective cultural consciousness and form our history of art?

A possible explanation for the accumulation of a specific collection could be connected to the active participation and guidance by art specialists in accordance with the directives and goals of an institution. It is not unusual to witness such collaborations at art auctions; situations that will ensure the continual enhancement of an institution’s reputation and the elevation of personal reputations. Once an institution receives a major donation, it then often markets the collection under the donor’s name to give an example of the astute collecting abilities of an art lover who has magnanimously given his valuable collection back to the community.

There seems to be no mention about the enormous tax receipt given to the collector or his estate which has a direct proportional relationship to personal and estate tax obligations. The donation process can also work well in reverse when a large corporation seeks to reduce its tax burden while appearing to support a city’s cultural life. Here too, a major work will often be purchased specifically for future donation in the name of the corporation and often with the advice of a gallery mandarin or a professional art advisor.

A contemporary artist also benefits if he places one or several of his pieces into a major gallery. Years ago it was standard practice for an emerging artist to donate a piece to the National Gallery for no other reason than to be able to truthfully state that his work was in that collection, and to perhaps enjoy any subsequent financial benefits. The gallery has long since discouraged this activity as it was unable to accommodate the wealth of work (good and atrocious) it received.

Every artist knows that the donation process is an excellent way to bury pieces which may have a detrimental effect on current pricing structures. I have been involved with artists who refuse to acknowledge authorship of an early work because it is stylistically quite different from their current work which brings in a much higher price. A gallery owner may also actively encourage the artist to do so, for obvious reasons.

This certainly doesn’t do much for collectors of early work who cannot recover the initial investment upon re-sale. Then we have contemporary artists who donate a conceptual work of questionable production cost in an attempt to secure a tax receipt and to position the work in an influential cutting-edge gallery so as to elevate his artistic stature within the international community. At times my appraisal work has been challenged by such artists as I was seen to not be sensitive to the value of the intangible, intrinsic and conceptual aspect of their work even though it is not part of my mandate.

Next: The Case of the Idiosyncratic Signature and the Indecipherable Monogram

 Sun, Apr 15, 2012