ARTISTS' ESTATES: REPUTATIONS IN TRUST
by Robert Sievert
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Helen McNeil, Brooklyn, N.Y. 2003, with Lexington Avenue, 1987, 78"x64", by George McNeil. Photo: Philip Vaughan.
Esteban Vincente in his studio, c. 1968
Book Review: ARTISTS ESTATES: REPUTATIONS IN TRUST
by Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau,
Rutgers University Press
Artists work all their lives and are driven to create a body of work. Some plan carefully and others seldom think of what will happen once they are no longer here to reference and order their work.
A revealing and touching book about this subject has been written by Magda Selvensen, the widow of Jon Schueler, abstract painter. Selvesen was left all the work of her husband and had to come to terms with it’s preservation and continued life. She took it upon herself to interview other widows of artists who have been managing their late husbands estates (paintings.)
The thing that first struck me was that this is about the work of artists that had achieved success in their careers. I was amazed by the fact that when alive it takes money to promote work and after that it still takes money to continue to keep a career alive and growing. There is also a huge expense in having a conservator involved in maintaining the physical well being of the work.
The widows of Esteban Vincente, Richard Deibenkorn, Mark Rothko, Gregory Gillespie and Fairfield Porter all come forth with details of what it has taken to manage the estates left to them by the artists that they loved and lived with. Many of them had their own careers and had to sacrifice themselves to the care of an estate.
Several times in the book it is mentioned that art is big business. Many successful artist have an income potential in the millions. Jackson Pollacks work achieved value after he died. His widow Lee Krasner, played the cards right and ended with a huge fortune She created a foundation that has benefited artists for years. She was also able to go on and have a productive career after all this. She was a truly admirable woman.
There is also a section in which Selvesen interviews a lawyer who’s specialty is art law. He has many interesting things to say about how the law effects art estates. He discusses estate taxes, resale entitlements and other pertinient issues.
But this book is about artists who have had great success. It does not touch on what happens to artists with less success and some one is left with a collection of paintings with no proven commercial value.
The book is filled with many success stories as well as many cautionary tales. It is a guide to those thinking about what will happen to their work when they are gone.
Text copyright © 2005 Robert Sievert