How To Donate Your Art to Israel
Noel Levine, a real estate investor and photography collector, was a longtime patron of the arts, providing photographs and millions of dollars to both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art (galleries at both institutions are named in his honor), as well as to other cultural institutions in the United States.
However, in , eight years before he died at the age of , he and his wife, Harriette Levine, decided to donate their -work photography collection — including vintage works by Man Ray, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz — to the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem. They also contributed $ million to the museum’s endowment fund.
Perhaps you want to donate to the Israel Museum, too — maybe not on as grand a scale, but something — or to some other foreign institution, such as a university or hospital. All quite doable, but a bit more complicated for an American taxpayer than donating to a not-forprofit institution in the U.S.
Of course, you can just give cash or other valuables to any organization anywhere in the world, but if you want to declare a tax deduction, the gift might not qualify. Donors would not be permitted any tax deduction for gifts to foreign countries or their museums, according to Michael Kosnitzky, a partner in the Miami-based law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; however, “they may take a full fair market tax deduction for donated items to foreign museums when the objects are given to a U.S.-based Friends organization.”
One such group is American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay, located in New York City. In ¡, a New York couple, Marlene and Spencer Hays, agreed to donate more than ¡ paintings by such French artists as Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris upon their deaths. The donation actually was made to the Friends-of organization, which agreed to lend the collection to the French museum until several years have passed and the museum makes a formal request to the Friends-of group to take permanent ownership of the artwork. U.S. donors, such as the estate of the Hayses, would be able to take an immediate tax deduction for the gift, based on its appraised value. But if the foreign not-for-profit used the gift for a nonexempt purpose — the Musée d’Orsay using the paintings as blankets, for instance — or if it were to decide that it no longer wanted the artworks before three years were up, the donors or estates would need to amend their tax returns to revalue the objects.
There are hundreds of these groups in the United States, from American Friends of the Blind in Greece to American Friends of Tel Aviv University. After a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris in , “we had to ¡ donations of cash in a couple of days,” said Emily Grand, administrator of the New York City-based GHS Philanthropy Management. The company oversees more than a dozen “Friends-of” organization. “The outpouring of support was spectacular and uniquely American,” Grand said.
As with monetary gifts to any U.S. not-for-profit, the donations to Friendsof groups may be made in a variety of forms, including cash, bequests and employers’ matching funds.
No one turns down money. The process of donating objects adds a bit more complexity, as the Friends-of group acts as a conduit of information to the foreign entity, which may decide not to accept a potential gift. “Occasionally, someone finds something that he thinks might be important but a curator at the museum does not,” said Leah Siegel, executive director of the New York Citybased American Friends of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. “We cannot accept anything until a curator or collections committee at the museum accepts it.”
In fact, the American Friends of the Israel Museum never actually sees or touches the objects that are o¤ered. “We have a small o¥ce, and we’re not curators,” Siegel said. Prospective donors are asked to send information to the Friendsof group, such as photographs, a condition report, an assessment of the object’s value by a qualified outside appraiser and the particulars as to its history of ownership, and the group relays it to the museum for its approval.
Curators tend to be world travelers, visiting other museums to inspect objects and sometimes to deliver pieces to institutions, and they’ll make time in their schedules to stop by the home or storage site of the prospective donor to examine the proposed gift. They will then report back to their directors or
acquisitions committees about the o ered gift. If the gift is approved, the board of directors of the American Friends of the Israel Museum o cially accepts the donation and votes to loan the item to the museum for a period of three years, when a final request for title transfer is made. Until that point, the Friends-of organization is the o cial owner of the piece.
The process generally is smooth, although prospective donors need to recognize that they have less leverage to negotiate the terms of their gift than if it were being made to an institution in the U.S. A foreign museum, just like an American museum, cannot be required by a donor to use a cash gift or object in a certain way. Additionally, the Friends-of organization becomes the owner, at least for the first several years, and the group’s board of directors may make its own decisions. According to the guidelines published by the American Friends of the British Museum: “The Directors of the American Friends of the British Museum have complete discretion and control over the ultimate disposition of any contributions received by the organization. While donors may suggest that their gifts be used for a specific purpose, these requests are nonbinding.”
Those rules are the same for all Friends-of groups. Another similarity among them arises when it comes to the cost of packing, crating, shipping and insuring an object that is to travel to a foreign institution. Siegel stated that “we handle the logistics of pick-up, insurance, shipping and crating, which is most often at the donor’s cost,” while the American Friends of the Louvre considers the costs of shipping as being “part of the gift,” said Sue Devine, the organization’s executive director.
Siegel noted that “not all donors” to the American Friends of the Israel Museum organization are Jewish, although the majority are. “They may have some family connection to Israel or just have visited the Israel Museum,” she said. In fact, many of the artworks donated to the museum through the Friends-of organization are by artists who themselves have no Jewish ancestry, such as Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Avedon, as well as all those photographs donated by Harriette and Noel Levine. Similarly, the majority of donors to the American Friends of the Prado, which is based in Minneapolis, are not of Spanish origin, nor are most donors to the New York City-based American Friends of the Louvre French.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Devine said.
Many of the works donated to the museum are by artists who themselves have no Jewish ancestry.