The Brooklyn Museum seemed to have garnered a bonanza in 1932 when it received a large bequest from the estate of Col. Michael Friedsam, president of the elegant retail emporium B. Altman. But eight decades later that cache of Dutch and Renaissance paintings, Chinese porcelains, jewelry and furniture has become something of a burden. A quarter of the 926 works have turned out to be fakes, misattributions or of poor quality, and the museum potentially faces a hefty bill to store the 229 pieces it no longer wants.
It’s an awkward thing to give away or sell a gift made to you. However, it can be even more awkward when you can’t hold onto a gift. No, this is not a post-Christmas catastrophe, rather it’s the very real problem so many museums face every year.
One museum currently on the hook is the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The New York Times recently reported on its plight regarding a gifted collection in an article titled “Brooklyn Museum Finds Some Problematic Gifts Can’t Be Returned.”
It seems that in 1932, Colonel Michael Friedsam gave a massive collection to the then fledgling museum. Nevertheless, since then the museum has grown and has too much to put on its walls, no longer displays items like historic battle axes, and half the Colonel’s collection turned out to be fakes or “not of museum quality.” Bottom line: the museum wants to give or sell the artworks and stop paying the exorbitant storage and restoration fees.
Now, it’s not that the museum is unappreciative. No, it’s more complicated even than that. Unfortunately, the Colonel’s will legally excludes any option the Colonel’s estate executor hasn’t signed off on. Even more unfortunately, the last executor died in 1962.
The lesson for those with artworks worth preserving for future generations is to include alternatives permitting like-minded individuals (executors) to further your objectives for your gifts in the future.
The Colonel and his estate planners couldn’t have foreseen the next 90 years, but therein lies the challenge. Predicting the future can be a very tricky thing and, certainly, a very inexact science. So, how are your gifts structured?
Reference: The New York Times (January 15, 2012) “Brooklyn Museum Finds Some Problematic Gifts Can’t Be Returned”