Art and the Fiscal Cliff

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Left to right: Kathryn Markel, Pearl Goodman, Marysol Nieves

Oil and water don't mix, but money and art certainly do. Museum curator Peter Boswell warned of the dangers inherent in the current budgetary standoff between the White House and Congress. "Charitable donations are part of the fiscal cliff negotiations," he said during a panel discussion at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art. If tax breaks for these donations are reduced or cancelled, it will be "an incurable blow to the country's museums" that are largely dependent on private donations of artwork. "Most museums have very limited acquisition budgets, and most don't have endowments," said Boswell.

The primary focus of the panel was the art of collecting. "An art collection is a reflection of a collectors' intellect, taste and passion," declared Kathryn Markel, a NY gallery owner since 1975. "The definition of a serious collector is they can't stop collecting, even when they run out of space."

Pearl Goodman was there as a prime representative of just such a serious collector. Together with her husband, they have amassed 78 major works by Latin American artists. Many of these were bought at auction. "No matter how foolishly you may have bid," she grinned," everyone congratulates you after the auction."

Marysol Nieves, vice-president of Latin American art at Christie's auction house, said she has noted "an incedible growth in the field this past decade. It has grown in a methodical, stable way, not the sort of craziness you see in other art markets." Prices for such paintings now regularly see figures of a million dollars, with one work recently being sold for $7 million.

"Before an artist arrives at auction," said Fred Snitzer, owner of a gallery in Miami, "99% of the time his art will be in a gallery." He recommeded making working relationships with dealers to assess what artists are worth investing in. Markel agreed, saying that "interaction with dealers in an important part of art education."

But she warned that "collecting is a self-fulfilling prophecy." There is no way of knowing if an artist you buy now will still be highly regarded in the future. Snitzer said it could take 20, 50 or even 100 years. Since few people can wait 20 years, much less 100, the best advice is to buy whatever strikes a visceral response in you as an individual collector. Let your descendants worry about whether it is worth $50 or $50 million.



Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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