How to save an insolvent art museum?

James S. Maroney, former vice-president of American painting at Sotheby’s, has submitted to the court a plan to save the Barnes Foundation’s finances and keep the collection in Merion on the outskirts of Philadelphia.  Mr. Maroney’s plan entails selling life interest in individual paintings: each buyer would pay 10% or more of a painting’s value and would "own" the rights to display the painting for the rest of the buyer’s life.  The Barnes would take the painting back when the buyer died…the revenues would be used for an endowment of some $200 million…

All this could be done without lending out the 100 "most desirable" paintings from the collection.  And if the museum has a lower discount rate for these paintings than do individuals, the trade makes economic sense. There is, however, only one known precedent in the past (the Denver Art Museum), and informed opinion predicts the proposal will not be adopted.  Furthermore the plan fails if it turns out that people buy pictures simply to own them, rather than to look at them.

The quotation is from the December 2003 The Art Newspaper, p.14


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