Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Museum donation paperwork

Red Skeltons grave. from

Tonight I am going to write an answer to an inquiry I received today. I will return to the Homer watercolors tomorrow (probably). Below is the question from a reader;

Dear Stape;

Is it common practice when donating to a museum that you sign a contract saying,
"I do hereby irrevocably and unconditionally give and transfer to the museum all right, title, and interest, including all copyright,trademark, and related interests, in and to the following described work of art." ? Should one sign everything over when donating? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Fastidous Skirtpleater

Mr Skirtpleater;

They will probably accept the gift only if you relinquish all rights to it. They will own it free and clear along with (usually) the right to reproduction. Sometimes that document is called a deed of gift, I believe. I have never given a piece of mine to a museum. I prefer they have none, until they become willing to pay for one like my valued clients.

You will be GIVING them the painting, they will OWN it. You will retain no ownership of any kind. They are also receiving the right to reproduce it, say on postcards or whatever. That is different than an ordinary sale in which you would retain those rights,( unless you offered them as part of the sale ) but no other part of ownership.

However the right which the museum may exercise, that might give you pause, is deaccession. They may never show your painting, and then sell it at a bake sale in a few years, for the price of a hedge trimmers.

Is this a small regional, artist friendly, equal opportunity museum or is it a place that would never dream of showing your art? Perhaps they prefer high ticket 19th century art or cutting edge contemporary. Most museums do.

I wonder why you are doing this? If you have lots of art and can hand off a piece to a museum for free that's great. I can't. I would hope to get something from them in return, maybe they have an upcoming show in which your art might be included. My guess is that you called them and not that they called you. In that case they will reply, not with "Yes, Dear! It will be just perfect for our upcoming show entitled : A trip through Syria with Nathan Bedford Forrest. " but instead with
" Oh no we only receive gifts outright, it is not our policy to exchange any value upon their donation. The board approves any expenditures. However if it does hang in a show, we will try to call you and let you know".

If you are, like me, a traditional painter, the odds of it's being exhibited are small. The level of contempt that artists like myself are held in the museum and academic-curatorial world is extremely elevated at this time, and at all other times of which I am personally aware.

Maybe you read in a book; " Give your art to some museum!" it will build your resume. I have often seen resumes bleating "In the collection of the Syncretism Musuem in La Mirada!" (All roads lead to the Syncretism Museum!) I always think, I never saw their painting at that museum, maybe I missed it, could it have been in one of the other transepts? But maybe regular folks are more impressed. I have seen some real fancy resumes posted near piles of unsold work that seems to me, to be of limited commercial possibilities and showing no particular accomplishment.

I have about 20 pages of stuff I can print out for a C.V., shows, awards, memberships in organizations. When a dealer asks for that, I can bury them in paper! Usually though, no one asks. They can go to my web site and download a bunch of stuff I haven't updated, because the new stuff isn't better.

Few people read resumes or know what any of it means, and most of them that people do see are hideously inflated Macy's Parade balloons driven by snarling demons, dripping deadly toxins and squirming with lies and obfuscations, and the endless, hissing, pumping up of the mundane into elite accomplishment.

You may be thinking, Yes! but I will write off 14,000 dollars on my income taxes on a painting that I made in a weekend using $40.00 of materials!

Talk to your accountant, lawyer, financial adviser or Neighborhood Watch Block Captain about this, Stapleton Kearns gives no legal or tax advice and any advice given here is strictly for entertainment purposes. The opinions given here today, are not necessarily those of tomorrow and may contain one or numerous errors. Again, talk to your accountant, ward heeler, or thoracic surgeon about this, pretends no particular familiarity with the tax code. Stapleton makes no claims about the value, or lack of value, of this, or any other statement made in the blog. Nor will massages be given at night in the hotelrooms, Al.

I think you will find you are only allowed to write off the cost of materials on your taxes. I have heard that this is something that may be changing, and perhaps it has, but in the past an artist was not allowed to deduct the "market value" of their donated art on a tax return. Things change a lot and often I don't know. Things are changing all the time. The past has changed the least.

Again, talk to your group leader, political officer, or court appointed executor about this, and anything else that troubles you or just seems "out of the ordinary".


Deborah Paris said...

OK, I am reading along, mildly amused by your response and then this:

"Nor will massages be given at night in the hotelrooms, Al."

I was unfortunately in the midst of drinking water (endlessly it seems as I am in Telluride at a plein air event and staying hydrated is a full time job), and now all the water I spit out as I howled in laughter is seeping into the keyboard of my ancient laptop. No matter, it was worth it.

Mary Byrom said...

Make me laugh! Very funny. I think you missed your calling. What legalese. You could have been a lawyer and made tons of money, joking all the way to the bank.

billspaintingmn said...

I think Red just rolled over.

Robert J. Simone said...

Ha, If Al thinks the climate is warming here wait until he gets to the next life! Good one, Stape.

Stanka Kordic said...

great info! Yep, and I am officially done donating to causes, especially when they insist it's fully "tax deductable" PULEEEZ. another way the artist gets stiffed.

Philip Koch said...

Mary Byrom joked that Stape could have been a lawyer, but I suspect he would have lasted about ten minutes in that career.

alotter said...

As a tax lawyer myself, I am willing to confirm Stape's observation that an artist can deduct only the out of pocket costs of producing an artwork that he/she donates to a charitable organization. I don't think that will ever change, unless the artists and museums somehow become as important as oil companies to Congress.

On a related question, what happens to all my unsold paintings when I die?

willek said...

Well, as you have drudged up Red Skelton, and by inference, Clem Kadiddlehopper...I think it only fair to give a moment or so to Spike Jones who was my all time favorite musician for a year or so of my preteenhood.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I wish I was painting in Telluride.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I can't imagine being a lawyer. No offices or creepy felons, please.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Red painted too you know.Painted clowns in the American motel tradition.

Stapleton Kearns said...

They will make him do debates all day long, and take questions from the roasting press.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't see it as the artist gets screwed. Its simply a matter of asking is this contract or deal in my own interest? You choose whether or not to do it.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't think I would be very happy as a lawyer.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you for the info. I had forgotten you were a TAX lawyer.
I might prefer the oil companies to the museums. I love seeing the art, but the institutions themselves are often nasty.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Clem Kladidlehopper, I loved that stuff! Skelton was so sweet and without cynicism. I bought tapes of him for my children. They had Freddy the Freeloader too.
Spike Jones was before my time, only a name to me, did you also listen to Burl Ives, or the New Crusty Nostrils?

Robert J. Simone said...

They're gonna make big Al relive the 2000 presidential elections over and over while eating hanging chads for breakfast.

jhone taker said...

As a tax lawyer myself, I am willing to confirm Stape's observation that an artist can deduct only the out of pocket costs of producing an artwork that he/she donates to a charitable organization. I don't think that will ever change, unless the artists and museums somehow become as important as oil companies to Congress.