Sunday 2 May 2010

Tax Deductions and Provenance

Many US museums (in particular) rely on donations of objects for their collections by wealthy collectors acting as some kind of patrons, for which they get not only kudos, but a tax deduction. The public benefits which this brings (museums getting more goodies to display) is is one of the arguments advanced by the no-questions-asked collectors against measures intended to curb the trade in illicitly-obtained artefacts. There has been some discussion about these practices since the raids on several Californian museums about two years ago. Possibly as a result of this, Erin Thompson (J.D. 2010, Columbia) has published a text on The Relationship Between Tax Deductions and the Market for Unprovenanced Antiquities, (Columbia-VLA Journal of Law & the Arts Volume 33, Number 2, Winter 2010 pp 241-66). I have not seen the article, but over on his TaxProf Blog Paul Caron (Univ. of Cincinnati College of Law) has reproduced the Introduction for us to see the gist of the argument:
This Note examines the relation between the market for unprovenanced antiquities and Congress' allowance of tax deductions for donations of in-kind gifts to nonprofit organizations. Part I lays out the current rules on charitable deductions. Part II surveys the antiquities market, arguing that the majority of unprovenanced antiquities sold in the American market during the last few decades were looted and illegally exported from their countries of origin in order to feed this market. Part III begins with a discussion of several cases of donated antiquities and then moves to a general suggestion that the current charitable deduction rules, at best, fail to reduce looting and, at worst, encourage the purchase of looted antiquities. The Note concludes with a proposal for conditioning the availability of a deduction on the presence of satisfactory provenance information and a discussion of the impact this reduction in the availability of deductions might have on the market for antiquities, scholarship and the fate of antiquities themselves.
The guidelines embodied in the 2008 Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art clearly state that they refer to donated goods too, so some of the objects of dubious origins which Thompson discusses are no longer in any case regarded acceptable as donations by responsible US museums. Nevertheless the suggestion is an extremely valuable one.

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