Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On that big story on the tax benefits of private museums

Patricia Cohen had a long and interesting story on the front page of the Business section of Sunday’s New York Times on the increasing number of private museums – where, as she puts it, the "founders can deduct the full market value of any art, cash and stocks they donate, even when the museums are just a quick stroll from their living rooms."

My general take on this is that, while there are certainly valid concerns here, one way to look at these arrangements is as part of the deal we make in order to get broader access to these (amazing) collections eventually.  As the article notes, in the past personal collections like these have “germinated into cherished institutions like the Barnes Foundation, now in downtown Philadelphia; the Frick Collection in New York; and the Phillips Collection in Washington, all of which started in private residences that showcased the masterpieces acquired by wealthy art aficionados.”  (Like some of the places mentioned in the article, the Barnes originally had limited admission by appointment only; it took a lawsuit by the Attorney General to get them to open things up.)  So think of Glenstone as a future Barnes.  Some day we will cherish the collection the way people cherish the Barnes.  If part of the price we have to pay to get there is to allow the founders to keep the collection close to their hearts (and living rooms) in the early years, that doesn’t seem like too bad a deal.  Life is short, art is long.