Artists Fairs Features United Kingdom

From here to eternity?

Artists need to plan what happens to their homes, studios and art if they want to make sure their legacy endures

Donald Judd’s studio and home on Spring Street, New York, has been restored by the Judd Foundation. Photo: Josh White. Donald Judd Art © Judd Foundation. Licensed by VAGA, New York. © Claes Oldenburg. © Lucas Samaras. Dan Flavin © Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Donald Judd FurnitureTM © Judd Foundation

Successful artists are more prosperous than ever and with affluence often comes an appetite for acquiring property and art—and for those so inclined the means to build what could become their shrine. Typically left in the care of foundations that they or their heirs set up, artists’ collections, studios, homes and land can form a rich legacy in addition to their own work.

Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Clyfford Still, Roy Lichtenstein, Henry Moore and Donald Judd: the list of some of the artists’ foundations set up since the late 1970s reads like a roll call of post-war art greatness. It can be a problematic legacy: Judd left his two children the task of preserving his and others’ art—he created a 500-strong collection—and a lot of real estate in New York and Marfa, Texas, exactly as he left them. It was a tall order as he died leaving millions of dollars of debt.

Warhol’s surprise

Today, there is a generation of living artists, with Anselm Kiefer and Damien Hirst at the forefront, whose fortunes and property portfolios mean their legacies may well overshadow their predecessors’, and for whom a Judd-like financial black hole is unlikely. But which artists choose to protect their legacies rather than leave it up to curators and collectors, and how they do it is often a surprise—no one knew that Warhol was going to endow a foundation until his will was published, says Ronald Spencer, a New York-based lawyer who has advised artists’ foundations. By contrast, “Robert Indiana is very much attached to the ‘Star of Hope’ and he’d like to see it preserved,” says Spencer, referring to the 19th century former lodge on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, where the artist has lived and worked since the late 1970s.

Hirst is building his own space in London to show works from his collection. By Frieze next year his Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall, south London, should be complete—his spokeswoman says by early 2015 at the latest. Meanwhile, in Gloucestershire, Hirst has been restoring a country house, Toddington Manor, since 2005. And in the same county in the west of England, he has restored another historic building in need of attention, to show art. Chalford Place near Stroud in Gloucestershire dates back to the 17th century. Inside the Cotswold-stone building there is wood panelling with a butterfly and skull motif designed by Hirst.

Property portfolio

Hirst’s burgeoning property empire seems domestic in scale compared with Anselm Kiefer’s. A book by Danièle Cohn, a professor of visual arts at the Sorbonne, Paris, published this month by Phaidon in the UK (Flammarion in the US) provides a glimpse inside the German artist’s vast studios, past and present. Starting off relatively modestly in an attic of a former school, Kiefer then took over a disused brickyard in Germany. Next came a former factory complex in the south of France followed by his current studio, a gigantic warehouse on the outskirts of Paris. In 2011 it was reported that Kiefer was thinking of buying a former nuclear power station in Germany. Cohn reveals that he is building a studio on a cliff top south of Lisbon.

András Szántó, a contributing editor to The Art Newspaper, says “for the past 20 years we’ve seen the emergence of artists of great wealth who will leave behind substantial bequests, be it of art or real estate.” We thought that artists leaving behind “Juddian physical infrastructure” was exceptional, it may become less so, he says.

Artists, dealers, tax advisers and lawyers met in London last week to discuss the issues surrounding artists’ foundation at a symposium co-organised by the Henry Moore Foundation, the Art Fund and the lawyers Farrer & Co. Speakers included Christine Vincent, the study director of the Aspen Institute’s National Study of Artist-Endowed Foundations. Its report into the next generation of artist-philanthropists, published in 2010, aimed to help artists plan their legacies. In the ten years between 1995-2005 the number of artist-endowed foundations doubled in the US and their combined assets more than tripled to around $3.5bn. As more baby-boomer artists hit their 70s, the typical age when they set up a foundation, that figure looks set to increase.

Artists’ properties often form the central element of their estate. The Aspen study found that a third of artists’ foundations holding $1m or more in assets owned real estate, of these a third ran museums and galleries, a third ran study centres and a third ran artists’ residencies, typically in places where the artists once worked. In Florida each summer, resident-artists enjoy Robert Rauschenberg’s former home and studio set in a 20-acre estate on Captiva Island, for example.

Selling works

The Aspen report warns that artists and their foundations need to think carefully about the burden of maintaining property “particularly during the downside of art market cycles” if a foundation depends on periodic sales of art to fund a building’s upkeep and operations. Samuel Sachs, the president of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, says that artists are “well advised to set up a foundation with a sufficient endowment—private donors might not be out there to cover ongoing expenses”. The foundation, which supports artists in need, handed over the Pollock-Krasner house and studio at East Hampton, Long Island, to Stony Brook University to preserve and run as a study centre.

Disputes between the artist’s family and foundation can result in expensive litigation. A falling out between the Henry Moore Foundation and the artist’s daughter took a decade to resolve. She had to sell some of her father’s finest paintings including Cézanne’s Three Bathers (around 1882) to pay her legal bill.

If funds are insufficient, even after selling works, finding an institutional partner is the sensible option. In Europe this has traditionally been the state, either directly or through a public museum. (Death duties focus the mind and encourage gifts.) Brancusi, for example, left his studio to the French nation, now preserved at the Pompidou Centre, Paris. Since 1980, the Tate has cared for the sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s St Ives studio.

When the artist Donald Judd died in 1994, he stated in his will that he wanted his own works and those of his friends, including Dan Flavin and Claes Oldenburg, left where they were, whether in his home/studio in New York, a five-storey former factory at 101 Spring Street, SoHo, or in the 15 properties he owned in Marfa, Texas. His children, then in their 20s, were left with the task of making it happen. His daughter, Rainer Judd, says that she and her brother “always knew we’d try”. She admits that it seemed a “really tall order” not least because of his debts. Rejecting an offer of $12m for 101 Spring Street in 1999, they “stuck with the belief that it was possible” and didn’t listen to those who said otherwise. In 2006, an auction of 36 of Judd’s work at Christie’s, New York, raised $24m for the Judd Foundation’s endowment. This allowed work to proceed on restoring 101 Spring Street, a $23m project completed last year. The building opened to the public in June. “Now we have a new financial challenge,” says Rainer Judd, “because the building costs dramatically more to operate”. Finding an institutional partner was never an option. “If you’re Donald Judd’s kids, you are raised to learn that if you hand something over to someone else, they are going to screw it up. If you want to do it right, you must do it yourself,” she says.

What advice does she have for artists thinking about their legacy? “It’s up to [them] to see there are the resource to do everything,” she says. “Keep a number of pieces together.” And for their heirs? “Keep things short with lawyers. They are very helpful but you need to keep your eye on the prize.”

More from The Art Newspaper


Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this