The art world is a fickle place. Art history is capricious. As is often recounted, van Gogh was not exactly a hot commodity during his lifetime, and Vermeer was hardly the giant he is today. How does an artist or her heirs ensure that a career’s worth of art survives after her death? How are ideas preserved, and how is a legacy burnished, particularly when the artist in question is not the type that can facilitate the creation of a Warhol or a Twombly or a Rauschenberg Foundation?
A group of art professionals believe they have the solution, and they’re coming together to form a new company called Art Legacy Planning, which will provide consulting services to artists, heirs, collectors, or anyone else needing estate and foundation planning involving art. The partners behind the new enterprise, which will be based in New York, are art adviser Mary Dinaburg; critic Saul Ostrow; art historian Kathy Battista, who is the director of the master’s program in contemporary art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art; and financial adviser Bryan M. Faller.
ALP aims to address everything from big-picture issues like promoting an artist’s legacy, to technical matters such as photographing and cataloguing work, to tax matters having to do with inheriting a sizable body of art. “The more we investigated, the more we found that there was no company or service” that addresses all of these issues, Dinaburg said in a phone interview.
The business of artist estates appears to be booming at the top end, with high-flying blue-chip galleries regularly signing on to represent the estates of artists, hoping to bring historical material that is undervalued to market. Sotheby’s, for example, recently hired away the Rauschenberg Foundation’s director, Christy MacLear, to help it develop advisory services for artist estates. “Galleries are going to do it for artists who they are sure can make revenue,” Dinaburg said, while noting that many artists pass away without fully developed markets. “Most artists are art-rich and cash-poor,” she said.
ALP will act as a consultant, drawing up a plan of action for clients that will cost between $1,500 and $3,000, and then working on a service-by-service basis for following through on it. “Everything is bespoke,” Dinaburg said. “It’s not cookie cutter.” The company can bring in lawyers, registrars, conservators, curators, and other art professionals to see a job through to completion, as well as to advise clients on whether to publish a monograph or to facilitate art donations that make sense from a tax and curatorial perspective. They even have psychologists to recommend if an artists’ heirs have difficulty in deciding the best course of action.
It need not be just artists’ heirs who reach out for help, Dinaburg noted. The group plans to work with active artists as well. “Nobody likes to think of their demise,” Dinaburg said. “You make art to not die, obviously,” but by actively following through on estate planning you can be “organized before you leave the world.”