Art Letter

June 2009 Archives


It's become pretty clear to me, working as the Director of the Briddge Group's Chicago office, that there are an awful lot of risks inherent in having a decent (or better) art collection.

I think it's important to look at these risks and to consider the value of working with some really competent collection advisors.

The number 1 biggest risk a collector can have is not having a solid record, historical catalog and inventory of what the heck is in the collection. This is important today and even more so in the future.

Most collectors buy, sell and move art around in their collection. We forget how long we've owned something, where it came from and what we paid for it. And invariably we have little idea about what it's worth now. If someone were to offer you what seemed like too much money for a piece you are willing to sell would you know if you were making a killing or getting screwed?

Let's say you die, and like most folks you have an inadequate plan for your art, and your kids are selling some pieces to pay estate taxes, don't you think the cost basis might be important for them to know?

Heck, I run into adult kids all the time who are selling the art they've inherited from their parents and they have no idea whatsoever if the piece is a painting, a lithograph or a reproduction. (Usually it's a reproduction that they want to believe is a valuable painting.) Don't you think it would be better if they knew what it was before they started spending the money?

You need a thorough, comprehensive, up to date record of what is in your collection. First and foremost! A qualified collection advisor/Art Succession Planner can take care of this for you. You will need to know if you have proper title (Do you know for certain that your art is not on any 'stolen art' list?), what the provenance is, when it was acquired, how much was paid, where it has been exhibited, what exhibition catalogs its in and approximately what it is worth today.

Let's touch on the stolen art problem. Stolen art is the third largest crime in the United States. Do you know how to ascertain that what you're about to purchase, or have purchased does not in fact belong to someone else? Do you know that if you have done your due diligence properly you can protect yourself from recourse? Do you really believe the person you will or have bought it from has done their due diligence? Can you imagine the difference between proper research - which is not expensive at all - and no research? If you have a collection that you believe is of value or even some pieces that may be of value, this is something you need to know and something The Briddge Group or someone like The Briddge Group can provide for you, cost effectively, efficiently and easily.

Let's go back to the scenario where you die without an effective plan for your art. And your collection of art, antiques, wine or Corvettes is worth in excess of half a million dollars. Do you realize that between auction fees, commissions and Uncle Sam your heirs are likely to relinquish in excess of 70% of the value of that collection? Do understand that with proper planning they can give up nothing?

Do not assume that your having discussed this with your estate planning attorney is sufficient? Did they ask you what you want to do with your collection that is going to outlive you? Did they talk with your heirs? Did they ask you if you want it to go to an institution? Did they talk to you about funding the donation above and beyond the actual gift and discuss strategies for accomplishing that? Did they negotiate with the institution? Invariably the answer is "No." With an informed Art Succession Planner you can create a team of advisors who will work with your existing lawyers and accountants and as an ensemble create a plan that takes care of what you love and who you love and will save you and them lots of money in the process.

Even if you are not going to die soon, it is not too early to make intelligent choices. From the numerous collectors I've spoken with about these issues it is clear that some think they know enough to not have to work with the specialists who do this every day.

One collector was shrewdly gifting pieces to his children every year, believing that he was effectively transferring ownership and correspondingly reducing the value of his estate, while leaving the art on his walls. The problem is the IRS does not consider that a transfer of title, since the art never left the premises, so all the foresight benefits no one. Kind of like home repair - at a certain point it is a whole lot wiser to contact an expert.

Then there's the collector with a very large collection and a really good record of it, but he's got his insurance with a company that is known to not understand art insurance. Damaged art is not like a damaged automobile. If the insurance company wants to use Bondo to fix your art, you're probably better off somewhere else - or contacting an expert.

Experts do not charge on a percentage basis. We are fee based. The amount of money you spend to get it right versus the huge risk of getting it wrong means doing it right is incredibly affordable.

Think about it. If you have a collection - art, antiques, cars, coins, stamps or butterflies - a collection you care about, your biggest risk is not contacting an expert. And if you mistakenly think your kids are going to sort it out later you should get in touch with an art succession planner now!

Thank you,
Paul Klein


6/05/09 Summer Art

Summer is a wonderful time for looking at art. The weather is temperate and the galleries are eager to see us.  To a large extent the gallery (art buying) season follows that of the school year, when people's attention is focused more indoors.

As a result, galleries are more prone to taking chances during the summer. For all their assumed affiliation with creativity, they are a rather conservative bunch. In summer we see more diverse offerings and art that may not be on view during the balance of the year.  Often we see really good, unexpected art and sometimes we see art that the galleries are trying out.

We also see a preponderance of group exhibitions which is an easy way for the art dealers to hedge, assuming the are prone to selling less, they think "Why not diversify and hope to get lucky?"

I saw several really good group exhibitions.
Primal, at Carl Hammer is wonderful and presented on two of the gallery's floors. Comprised entirely of drawings, mostly from Hammer's core of represented artists, there's some really strong work by artists like Phyllis Bramson, Henry Darger, Lee Godie, Martin Ramirez, Bill Traylor, Chris Ware, Joseph Yoakum and others. The show opened last night and is very worth seeing, even if you can't attend the opening reception.

Tom McCormick also has a really good group exhibition, titled 1959, wherein all the exhibited pieces were painted 50 years ago. Some of us can remember 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii became states, the Guggenheim opened and Ben Hur was the big movie of the year. It is curious to look at the paintings of the time and ponder how Abstract Expressionism was yielding to the Pop movement championed by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and very soon, Andy Warhol   It's always great to see a beautiful Joan Mitchell painting, but to a larger extent, considering what was going on in the world in 1959 and contrasting it to the art being made and then bringing that information to the present and the microscope we focus on art and culture today. 

Ann Nathan has a group show of nature, flora and botanica in the works of Amy Lowry, Deborah Ebbers,and Christina Haglid. All 3 are technically virtuous, but Christina Haglid is impressively gifted at her ability to delicately render tight images in gouache and watercolor.  A timely, beautiful summer show.

I'm pleased that the
Chicago Artists Coalition now has an exhibition space.  Long a bastion for all Chicago area artists, it has provided lots of services for artists. This is its first effort at a permanent exhibition space.  Located in Wicker Park, this opening exhibit features 30 works with 10 each selected by 3 unnamed, unaffiliated jurors.  As expected the show is uneven, which in this case means there are some unexpected surprises.

Byron Roche is presenting a one-person exhibition by the vibrant octogenarian, Leopold Segedin. Given my fascination with Chicago history and artists who work here, I am particular drawn to Segedin's trip down memory lane as he paints Chicago scenes from his youth that no longer exist. In many of them he shows himself as an old-timer energetically dancing as he broadcasts his continued engagement.  Solid.

Let's go look at some art!
Paul Klein