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Global Pension Trust Helps Artists to Help Themselves

The first year of the Artist Pension Trust, which aims to provide long-term financial security for artists, has resulted in the collection of approximately 65 artworks by 50 fine artists in the New York branch, including Jules de Balincourt, William Cordova, Anthony Goicolea and Aida Ruilova. An additional 35 pieces are committed to the

NEW YORK—The first year of the Artist Pension Trust, which aims to provide long-term financial security for artists, has resulted in the collection of approximately 65 artworks by 50 fine artists in the New York branch, including Jules de Balincourt, William Cordova, Anthony Goicolea and Aida Ruilova. An additional 35 pieces are committed to the program but currently on loan to museums.

The trust has also expanded to include Los Angeles and the United Kingdom (London), with other regions in Asia, Europe and South America in the works, reports David Ross, president of the trust and former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

By July, he notes, an Artist Pension Trust should be in place in Germany (Berlin), with separate but similar programs to be set up in 2006 in Asia (Beijing, Bombay, Seoul and Tokyo) and the Americas (Mexico City and Sao Paulo). Yet another is slated for Turkey (Istanbul) in 2007. The start-up costs are being supplied by a group of investors; additionally, future sales of artworks will help fund the operation.

The Artist Pension Trust of New York has raised approximately $5 million from “more than five investors,” says Moti Shniberg, chief executive officer of Mutual Art, the parent company of the Artist Pension Trust. In 1998 Shniberg founded ImageID, a company that applies pattern recognition and identification technology to a variety of industries. He sold part of his interest in 2001 but still serves as chairman.

The concept of the Artist Pension Trust calls for participating artists to donate 20 of their works over a 20-year period (two a year during the first five years, one a year in each of the ensuing five years, and one piece every other year for the remaining 10 years) to the trust.

Each trust has its own regional director and a selection committee that invites participation by artists who are thought to have “talent and promise,” Ross notes.

New York’s program was the first to start, in April 2004, while its fledgling Los Angeles and London counterparts came into existence more recently and have not yet rounded out the 50 artists’ slots. Every year for a period of five years, the selection committee for each trust will pick 50 new artists, reaching a total of 250.

After that the process begins again, forming a new trust for the next group of 50 artists, picked by a new selection committee. A different group will provide “a new take on art,” says Pamela Auchincloss, an art consultant and former gallery owner who is director of New York’s Artist Pension Trust.

London Branch Starts Up

In London, artists will be selected for invitation by a panel under the direction of Kay Pallister, a former exhibition curator at Gagosian Gallery, New York. Panel members include Alison Gingeras, curator of contemporary art at the Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris; Andrew Renton, an independent curator, writer and art consultant; Adam Szymczyk, director of Kunsthalle, Basel; and Rein Wolfs, chief curator of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Artists who have already accepted the invitation include Pavel Althamer, Marc Bijl, Erik van Lieshout, Rosalind Nashashibi, Lucy Skaer and Richard Wright.

“I know of many artists whose works have resold for 50 times the amount of the original price without their seeing a penny of that appreciation,” says Pallister. With this scheme, she adds, “artists can take control of their own works and make the market value appreciation benefit them, not just the canny speculative investors.”

The artworks in the trust are conserved while kept in storage over the 20 years, although Ross notes that they will be made available to museums for exhibitions, as well as to scholars for study. However, they won’t be rented out to corporate or other clients. “They aren’t decor,” he says. “We’re not a corporate-art lending service.”

Assuring Income After Retirement

After a period of time (15 years is the expected length), and depending upon what takes place in the careers of particular artists, individual pieces will be put up for sale. Half the proceeds will be deposited to the specific artist’s account; the other half will go into a general pool that provides retirement income for all the participating artists.

At some future point an international selling committee—separate from any of the selection committees—will be formed. Consisting of art consultants and dealers, this group will determine if, when and where artworks from any of the trusts are to be sold.

Auchincloss explains that sales are likely to take place through galleries. “Auction is not our preferred return to market,” she says, because there is a larger element of risk in public sales and “because dealers want control over the placement of the art.”

The fact that members of the selection and selling committees are more apt to come from the gallery world than from auction houses, she adds, tilts the scale toward art dealers.

Auchincloss further points out that the policy of keeping artworks off the market allows artists to reap the rewards of their own works’ appreciation, rather than seeing that increase in value enjoyed solely by collectors.

“The appreciation in value can be recaptured by artists “who themselves are participants in the trust,” she explains. “However, unlike resale royalties, the trusts are for the mutual benefit of all the participating artists and also will “help artists who aren’t doing as well.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY COLIN GLEADELL

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