NEW YORK—February was a great month for Texas museums. Institutions in Dallas and Houston announced gifts of cash and artwork that amount to an astonishing windfall.
In an usual act of cooperation and generosity, a group of noted Dallas collectors joined forces and promised more than 800 works of postwar and contemporary art—along with an anonymous $32 million gift for future acquisitions—to the Dallas Museum of Art.
In Houston, at the Museum of Fine Arts, officials recently reported that a 2003 gift from the estate of oil heiress Caroline Wiess Law—initially $25 million in cash plus a trove of art—had been determined to be worth much more. The museum is the residual beneficiary of the estate and looks to reap around $450 million by the time it is settled.This will nearly double the Houston museum’s endowment, raising it to about $800 million by the time all is settled, reports director Peter Marzio.
The Dallas Museum of Art is equally delighted with its recently announced gifts. “We simply didn’t have the resources to form this collection,” Charles Wylie, the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas museum, told ARTnewsletter. “Our very strong contemporary art collection is now a great one.”
The art gifts include acquisitions of three Dallas couples who have been amassing artworks for decades, are known on the international collecting circuit and have been strongly supportive of the museum. According to several dealers and curators familiar with their acquisitions, they have purchased works with an unusual, noncompetitive team spirit, attempting to build collections that complement each other’s. When two of the couples recently bought sculptures by Rachel Whiteread from Chelsea’s Luhring Augustine Gallery, they chose pieces that reflect different aspects of Whiteread’s output, says gallery president Roland Augustine.
Works by Tom Friedman, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter recently have been acquired by the collectors “jointly with the Dallas Museum of Art,” Wylie points out.
Cindy (a trustee of the Dallas museum) and Howard Rachofsky are known for their trove of Arte Povera and Minimalist pieces. Their collection includes works by Lucio Fontana, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Donald Judd and Bruce Nauman. The Rachofskys also have promised their 11,000-square-foot, glass-and-steel home, designed by architect Richard Meier, as part of their gift.
Marguerite and Robert Hoffman’s collection is the most blue chip of the group, with works by classic Abstract Expressionist artists Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly. The Hoffmans have collected for 30 years, and Marguerite Hoffman chairs the museum’s board of trustees, while Robert Hoffman cochairs the fundraising campaign.
The gifts are unusual because they include a promise that the donors will give all future acquisitions to the Dallas Museum of Art and, too, because they come from collectors who are relatively young. “You don’t hear about gifts from people in their 50s,” says tax, trust and estate lawyer Paul Roy, of Withers Bergman, New Haven, Conn.
For donors there is a double benefit to giving art while they are still living, Roy points out. They are entitled to immediate income tax deductions and, upon their deaths, no estate taxes are owed on the property, which already has been given away. With promised gifts, donors generally give the museums fractional interest in their collections; 5/10 percent is standard. A Dallas museum spokesperson declined to reveal the details of the most recent donations, but said they are irrevocable.
The gifts grew out of a fundraising campaign, begun in 2001, which initially stalled in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but regained steam under the leadership of some of Dallas’s top collectors. “The goal was always in sight of undergirding the financing of the institution,” explains Wylie. Now, with the gifts, according to a museum statement, it has made strides in enhancing its acquisitions, “securing $65 million for the museum’s endowment.”
Former board president Deedie Rose and her husband, Rusty, will donate their collection, known for its sculpture, handmade objects and modern furniture. Artists included: Sol LeWitt, Ana Medieta, Nauman, Polke and Robert Ryman.
In addition to this postwar trove, the museum says Dallas collector Margaret McDermott has promised her Waterlilies—The Clouds,1903, by Claude Monet.
There are benefits to making donations before death impacts both the pocketbook and the psyche: “It’s much more fun to give when you’re alive than when you’re dead, especially when you go to dinner parties,” remarks attorney Ralph Lerner, an art-law specialist with Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, Manhattan.
Marzio told ARTnewsletter that it’s no surprise Texas museums have been reaping such big gifts recently: “I think it says the museums have been doing a job that’s a service to the community, and people are willing to invest in an institution.