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Jacob Lawrence’s “Struggle” – What To Do Before Your Art Becomes Famous

Hillary Sheets, reported in the New York Times, on the recent discovery of the 1956 Jacob Lawrence work “Struggle”, a long thought lost piece of a series of 30 paintings on the nation’s early history. The owners of the piece purchased the work at a charity auction in 1960 and knew who the artist was, but not the significance, of the painting. A sharp-eyed visitor to the Metropolitan Art Museum alerted the owners to the meaning of the painting in the broader context of Lawrence’s work and the Museum to its existence. The owners are not art collectors. The work is now famous, and estimated to be worth in the seven figures and so a significant asset.  So, other than having keen-eyed friends to alert you to what you have, how can you find out if you have such artwork?

The first step in planning for art is the gathering of information about each item. Information about artwork and collectibles, and the clear or clouded title to the property, has a dramatic effect in the value, or even the right to own, artwork. The second step in planning is establishing a common goal agreed to by all of the stakeholders in the artwork. This includes not only the current owners, but also the prospective future owners, the creators of the art, dealers, auction houses, museums and the professional advisors such as lawyers and accountants.  Without some common ground, there will be disputes and acrimony on how, and to whom, the painting is sold, gifted or inherited.

The information on the ownership of art, or provenance, has a dramatic impact, both positive and negative, on the value of art. So, to begin, gather as much information about the individual items you own, and your overall collection, as possible. In its basic form, this is your inventory. Some also include information on the market for the art; the relationships and rights that might exist around the ownership and use of the art; what your tax status is as a collector, an investor, as inventory, or as a business investment; and, to identify which items you may hold a questionable ownership title.

Although, you may possess art now, and you can do with it what you want, forming a consensus among the current or future stakeholders as the common goal for the artwork avoids current and future disputes. Whether it is to sell at auction, by private treaty, by consignment, by bargain sale or outright donation to a charity or gifting the art to family, once this common goal is agreed upon, stakeholders can be assured that their individual objectives are being met by this course of action. Resistance, especially where there is a high degree of public interest in the art, will fall away.  Otherwise you may end up with recriminations, both public and private, over how the art was handled. Forming this consensus will require mediation at times as well as the services of outside experts both in artwork and in tax. They will also help to remove possible issues on the title to the property.

In summary, if you have ever bought a piece of art at a charity auction, from a gallery, or inherited a piece from family, gather what information you have, and get help to assess what it is you have, and form a consensus on what to do with it now and into the future.

Source: Forbes – Money

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