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Monday, August 6, 2012

THE DOS AND DON’TS OF ARTISTS’ BEQUESTS



The dos and don’ts of artists’ bequests
An increasing number of artists are becoming philanthropists. Setting up a foundation is one option but there is another way

By Christine J. Vincent. Opinion, Issue 237, July-August 2012
Published online: 04 July 2012

The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s recent announcement that it aims to surpass the grant-making pace set by the wealthy Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (The Art Newspaper, April 2012, p4) is one more sign that the previously little-known field of artist-endowed foundations has moved into the spotlight. The proliferation of these entities is a shot in the arm for the flagging cultural philanthropy field, and for that we are grateful. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that they are the only means artists are using to realise their philanthropic visions and heritage stewardship goals. In fact, recent years have seen remarkably generous bequests by visual artists in the US made directly to museums and universities without the intervening apparatus of a private foundation. Complex and costly to operate, private foundations are a viable option only for wealthy artists who can properly endow their philanthropic actions; bequests to institutions offer an important alternative for the majority of artists concerned with the beneficial disposition of their life’s creative works and, as such, deserve closer attention.

Research by the Aspen Institute’s national study of artist-endowed foundations, the first comprehensive examination of the topic, focused on private foundations, but also identified other options being used by artists to realise their posthumous philanthropy. By provision of the United States tax code, public charities, which include most museums and universities, are not required to report and identify donors and their gifts, as are private foundations. That leaves researchers with no consistent data on the number and scale of artists’ bequests within this realm. Nonetheless, a review of press coverage finds evidence of generous gifts by artists in a variety of communities.

Beyond the blue chip

In 2001, Maine’s Portland Museum of Art announced that it had received the bequest of the landscape painter William Thon (1906-2000). Key pieces were added to the museum’s collection, but beyond this, Thon directed that his remaining art be sold. The resulting gift, valued at $4m, endowed a fund to support a named curatorial post as well as a biennial exhibition of Maine artists with a jurors’ prize. The museum also implemented a project stipulated in the artist’s will, distributing original works with supporting educational materials to almost 70 schools across the state of Maine. In 2009, Pennsylvania’s Allentown Art Museum announced that it had received the art estate of the sculptor Peter Grippe (1912-2002), along with works by his wife, the ceramicist Florence Grippe. In addition to the artists’ studio and homes, intended for sale to endow a related fund, the gift included works by leading modernists such as Calder, de Kooning and Lipchitz. At around 500 pieces, it is among the largest gifts received by the museum. In 2011, the new art centre at the University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, opened a retrospective exhibition of the second-generation abstract expressionist painter Stephen Pace (1918-2010), featuring selections from the artist’s bequest of 273 works, 50 intended as a permanent collection. The $1.5m gift from the artist and his spouse, comprising art and cash assets, funded the completion of the centre with a dedicated art gallery; an art scholarship had previously been endowed.


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