WOID XVI-18. Billionaires for Braque


As Charles Dickens might have written, "Surely there never was such fragile china-ware as that of which the art collectors and museums of America were made." Charles Grassley, head of the Senate Finance Committee, has brought consternation to the ranks of wealthy art collectors and the museum directors who love them. Ever since Grassley introduced and passed the Pension Protection Act on August 17, they are ruined.

Ruined, if they're not allowed to donate an artwork to a museum without actually ever having to turn over the artwork until they're dead. Ruined, if the value of the artwork increases but they're no longer allowed to claim an even bigger deduction.[1] It's soo unfair, considering that the very fact that the work is in a museum (in a manner of speaking), raises the value of the art.

The New York Times ran a scathing indictment of Grassley in which it called him a geek, a Republican, and a farmer to boot.[2] The fact that Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, of the family that publishes the New York Times, sits on the Acquisitions Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is provided here merely for informational purposes.[3]

Charles Schumer, member of the self-same Senate Finance Committee and now in a good position to challenge Grassley, says "the new rules will limit the amount of 'great art' available." In the same way, presumably, that Schumer believes enforcing laws against importing looted antiquities from China will limit the amount of great art available to American speculators: he's been putting considerable pressure on the State Department to hold off on China's request that these laws be enforced.[4]

And then there's James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, who warned the US Congress that the new rules will "deprive the public of the opportunity to see great works of art."[5] Apparently the way you deprive the public of the opportunity to see great works of art is by forcing museums to actually display said works of art.

Well, he's got a point, there. Wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art these days you'll find a number of works with the tell-tale "L" on their label - meaning "on loan." And sometimes, the more you look, the less of a masterpiece it turns out to be. So maybe, if the art wasn't shown at all the museums and their wealthy friends could have a chance to pursue their little deals in peace. Isn't that what art is all about?

- Paul Werner is the author of "Museum Inc.: Inside the Global Art World."

[1]
 http://theartlawblog.blogspot.com/2006/09/end-of-fractional-gifts.html

[2]
 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/arts/design/10stro.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=arts]

[3]
 http://www.metmuseum.org/annual_report/2005_2006/report_2005_2006.asp

[4]  http://radar.planetizen.com/node/15089

[5]
 http://opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110009263