CRASH COURSE – MANAGING AN ARTIST‘S ESTATE
If the estate of an artist’s works is not arranged in time, their legacy can become torn apart and deprived of its public effect. Planning and managing the estate early on is the best precaution both for providing adequate care of the work and for avoiding legal conflicts. Ideally, the heirs or administrators join forces with cultural managers, museums or foundations to ensure the optimal running of the estate.
The Artist’s Estate as Pandora’s Box
In our legal practice, we have witnessed many conflicts in dealing with artists’ estates. There are various points of contention arising ,yet they all represent variations of a common theme: the lack of timely estate planning.
A basic model would look like this: The last will or testament of the artists – if there is one at all – seeks the exhibition of their works for posterity and the benefit of the public. This rather vague starting point may be interpreted differently by the parties involved, depending on each one’s individual interests: A spouse may, for instance, wish to preserve the fame and reputation of the deceased artist and make to works available to as many people as possible. In contrast, one descendant may want to turn the works of art into cash and thus put them on the market as quickly as possible. The other descendant, however, may wish to preserve the entire body of works as one complete entity, but has no art historical training and underestimates the administrative efforts necessary. Externally, various museums are offering themselves for exhibiting and marketing the works, hoping for a donation of the artworks in return – should control over the works be given up at this point? Meanwhile, a foundation as well as a cultural manager are both proposing to take over the administration and marketing, and the artist’s gallery is also raising its voice, since it wants to benefit from any subsequent sales.
The result is a complex web of interests, some of which are diametrically opposed to each other. Which party or parties are best qualified to manage the artist’s estate? Oftentimes, the heirs initially feel left alone and have to face possible conflicts.
An Oeuvre’s Long-term Relevance is founded on Strategic Estate Planning
In the face of all potential disputes, one thing needs to be kept in mind: A bequeathed oeuvre is always a treasure. In many cases, it can only be preserved by cooperation. For this to succeed, external advice is often beneficial for bringing all parties to the table an in mediating between their respective interests. Conflicts around an estate form a pattern. Timely consulting increases the chances for finding a consensual solution.
In our experience, it is crucial to plan an estate strategically. Whether this comes in the form of a foundation, a non-profit association, an artist’s archive or through a public-private partnership – there are numerous possible models to be chosen and utilized. An independent third party can guide the heirs and stakeholders through the process as well as steer the establishment of boards and other governing bodies, without losing sight of the overarching interests of all parties involved.