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Artist Pension Trust Expands Worldwide

In 2004, former Whitney Museum of American Art director David Ross (now director of Albion Gallery, New York) and several Manhattan art dealers, including Jack Tilton and Jeffrey Deitch, conceived the idea of creating a pension program for contemporary artists, to which the artists would contribute not money but their own artworks.

NEW YORK—In 2004, former Whitney Museum of American Art director David Ross (now director of Albion Gallery, New York) and several Manhattan art dealers, including Jack Tilton and Jeffrey Deitch, conceived the idea of creating a pension program for contemporary artists, to which the artists would contribute not money but their own artworks.

Since then, the Artist Pension Trust (APT) has expanded from New York into a worldwide operation, with trusts in seven other locations—Beijing, Berlin, Dubai, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Mumbai. Each trust will contain 250 artists who are selected for inclusion by local committees of museum curators and dealers. Artists can apply to be part of a trust, and committee members can also recommend prospective members. Each trust focuses on a regional market, according to geographical proximity or a strong market presence (or market potential) in the area of the APT.

The trust’s advisory board consists of a high-profile lineup of artists, including John Baldessari, Cai Guo-Qiang, Kiki Smith and Rirkrit Tiravanija, as well as such experts as Tate International Council chair Elena Foster, Asia Society president and CEO Vishakha Desai and Hans Ulrich Obrist, director of international programs at the Serpentine Gallery, London.

According to Moti Schniberg, CEO of Mutual Art, the parent company of the trust, the APT is supported by approximately 50 investors around the world (whom he declined to name), who have put up a combined $20million. These investors will be paid back upon any sales of artwork, but “there is no minimum time period for sales, and no decisions will be made in a rush,” Schniberg said. “This is a completely long-term investment, and all of our investors know that and agree with the business model, because they are looking to help the artists.”

According to Schniberg, at present approximately 3,000 works of art by 1,000 artists representing 40 countries are included in one or another of the trusts.

20 Works in 20 Years

Under the rules of the trust, participating artists are expected to contribute 20 works over a 20-year period: two works a year for the first five years, one work a year for the next five years, and one work every two years for the remaining ten years.

The artworks in the trust are kept in storage over a period of 15 to 20 years, and will eventually be sold, Ross, who serves as chair of the curatorial committees, told ARTnewsletter.

The works will be made available to museums for exhibitions and to scholars for study in the meantime, but they will not be rented out to corporate or other clients.

According to APT CEO Pamela Auchincloss, museums that have borrowed artworks from the trusts for short-term loans include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Tate Modern, London.

Once the trust decides to sell a work, 40 percent of the proceeds will go directly into the account of the artist, and 32 percent will be placed in a general pool that will provide retirement income for all participating artists. The remaining 28 percent will go to the investors who have underwritten the Artist Pension Trust in its various locations.

The Manhattan-based APT office recently announced it is closing its first trust to new artists, having gathered work by 250 contemporary artists, including Santiago Cucullu, who is represented by Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, and Bhakti Baxter, who has an upcoming show at Bravin Lee Programs, New York (Jan. 9–Feb. 14), and is represented by Frederic Snitzer Gallery, Miami, and Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris.

“We’ll be opening another trust for another group of 250 artists later in 2009,” said Carolyn Yuen, APT director of operations. The artists range in age, Yuen said, from those in their twenties to others in their fifties. Yuen said the number of 250 artists per trust was developed in “our initial business model, as the best number of artists in order to ensure the best return on investment.” However, she said, the trusts are “not required to go to 250” and could have fewer.

Given the current economic climate, and the fact that the trusts are still at an early stage, it remains to be seen whether they will prove to be a solid long-term financial investment for the participating artists and investors.

“There is no way to know if it really will work,” conceded Clarissa Dalrymple, a private art dealer and curator who has been on the New York curatorial committee since the inception of the trust. “It is based on a business model … that is speculative, certainly.” However, she says, “all of us on the committee have experience” in identifying artists “who look like they can develop their work and careers.”

Dubai Trust Growing

The most recently established trust, set up in Dubai in 2006, currently has 50 artists from throughout the Middle East—primarily Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Turkey—in its pool. The Beijing trust represents artists in east Asia, including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, and the trusts in London and Berlin cover overlapping areas of Europe. (Russian artists are included in the Berlin trust; South African artists are included in the London trust.)

In the United States, there is no firm geographic demarcation between artists in the New York and the Los Angeles trusts, Yuen said, noting that the Mississippi River is “a soft line we sometimes use.” Still, she says, artists from Chicago and Texas are represented in both trusts: “It kind of depends on where the artists are represented by galleries and which committee nominated them” for inclusion.

Yuen says the program of keeping artworks off the market allows artists to reap the rewards of their market appreciation, rather than that increase in value being enjoyed solely by collectors.

At present, none of the artworks in any of the trusts have been put up for sale. The APT eventually plans to establish an international selling committee that will act independently of the respective curatorial committees.

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