A strong art market is a plus for our heritage

The announcement of an art fair for old masters (see interview) organized by a group of ten Parisian art dealers is excellent news. In fact, anything which helps to strengthen the art market in Paris is also good for French heritage and museums in general. The increase in galleries and events of this kind will obviously result in a heightened awareness for those who can afford old masters that, far from being passé, they are an infinite source of enjoyment. This might also contribute to creating a dynamic by which art works would return to France to be sold, the number of collectors would grow and, eventually, museums would add to their holdings.

Consecutive governments have had trouble understanding this. The authorities have placed countless obstacles to developing the market in old masters, considering them as a normal commodity. Import VAT is totally nonsensical : a collector or dealer bringing an art work into France has to pay a 5.5% tax when in fact this importation goes to enriching French heritage. Although collectors should be encouraged and celebrated, they are seen only as wealthy and privileged egotists thus making them look suspicious. After the exhibition “Passions privées” organized in 1995 at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, several of them, some of whom had even generously lent their works to the show, were subjected to a tax audit. Not a year goes by without a politician expounding on the notion of including art works in the wealth tax. This possibility is frightening enough to cause works to leave the country. Old masters are treated even more unfairly than contemporary art. The latter is the only category to benefit from the artistic 1% [1]. Some tax deductions are only granted to companies collecting contemporary art. These measures of course help artists, but extending the same benefits to works from the past would go far in helping to protect French cultural heritage, one of our country’s greatest assets.

Whereas French curators used to be very reticent about collaborating with dealers, things are slowly changing. The Salon du dessin has helped to open the way, with institutions actively playing the game and participating in the different events (colloquia, exhibitions…) which accompany the drawing week. There is now a change in behavior and many museum professionals are starting to understand that art dealers are not their enemies but constitute, rather, an essential element in the circuit. How could public institutions put together their collections without collectors ? How could these have collected without art dealers ? Where would museums find their acquisitions ? How many paintings, sculptures, drawings have been saved from destruction because dealers have found them, understood them, studied them, restored them ? As we have pointed out on other occasions, dealers are often art historians themselves and contribute to advancing knowledge in this field.

This is why we wish this new Salon good luck and hope for its resounding success. Exhibitions, events organized in partnership with museums, etc. have already been announced, a bit like for the Salon du dessin. Making Paris the capital of the market for old masters is an ambitious, but achievable goal.

Didier Rykner, jeudi 2 décembre 2010


[1] This obliges all public companies to spend part of the total cost of construction expenses in buying contemporary art.

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