Müzeler.1/Tate loses out to galleries abroad in cash squeeze

Tate loses out to galleries abroad in cash squeeze

Treasury urged to recognise prestige value of art in funding crisis, David Smith

Sunday October 31, 2004

The Observer

Tate Modern, one of the most popular art galleries in the world, fears for the future. Last week the Tate organisation was forced to beg 23 artists, including David Hockney and Damien Hirst, to donate works it can no longer afford.

The Tate is hopelessly outgunned by big spending foreign rivals in the acquisition of important work. And so deep is the funding crisis throughout the UK in public galleries and museums that last night leading British artists including Sam Taylor-Wood and Antony Gormley urged the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to intervene. The galleries themselves joined calls for the Treasury to offer tax incentives for collectors to give works of art to the nation instead of selling them abroad.

The gaps in Tate Modern's collection will be thrown into sharp relief next month by the reopening of New York's Museum of Modern Art following a spectacular $850 million revamp, which showcases one of the finest collections of modern art in the world. Tate Modern, on London's Bankside, is also in this elite group but, with art market prices soaring, there are concerns it could fall behind the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

The Tate estimates that, given the cuts or freezing of its government funds year after year, and inflation in market prices of as much as 1,000 per cent, the organisation's buying power is now about 5 per cent of what it was 20 years ago. Godfrey Barker, an art market expert, warned that last week's artists' donation 'still leaves the Tate with a gigantic gaping hole to plug'. He added: 'The Tate's financial predicament is dire. The contemporary art market is getting out of hand and the Tate is one of the poorest players.'

David Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund, said the issue has far-reaching implications. 'In international competition there is a real risk this country will miss out. We don't want people 50 or 100 years from now saying: What were they doing in the early 21st century? Why were they not taking every step to acquire the best works in the world?'

The fund backs a proposal that would allow private owners to deduct the gross value of any important works they donated to public collections from their income tax assessment. Unlike the current scheme which applies to inheritance tax, it would encourage major collectors to give art to the nation in their lifetimes.

Barrie added: 'The key question is that government funding for acquisitions is so woefully inadequate that we need to find every possible means for enriching museum collections. It would be enormously helpful if there was an income tax relief provision for gifts of work of art. It's a political decision for the government of the day but we do recognise there are a number of technical issues that need to be addressed.'

A similar tax relief scheme operates in America and has been successfully imitated in Australia, Canada and Ireland. Taylor-Wood, speaking at the White Cube gallery where her latest exhibition opened last week, said: 'It's a fantastic idea. It's the reason why so many American museums have got so many fabulous works of art. People are willing to make donations and you've seen how many galleries have opened because of it. I would like to see it start in Britain as soon as possible.'

Gormley, one of the artists who donated work to the Tate last week, added: 'It's the only way we're not going to look like the poor man of Europe, if not the world. When an old master such as a Raphael is threatened we get up a big campaign and save it, but the other end of the spectrum, contemporary art, is not dealt with. We need to do so immediately.'

Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the National Gallery, said: 'It used to be thought of as an exclusively American system but both Canada and Australia have introduced it with great success. The Museum of Ontario now has a Rubens - The Massacre of the Innocents , donated by Lord Thomson - that we do not. It's very important to point out the prestige attached to national institutions has become very competitive globally and British politicians haven't woken up to this fact.'

The Tate, British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum also broadly support the tax relief scheme, which was one of the recommendations in Sir Nicholas Goodison's funding review for the Treasury earlier this year. But insiders claim it is still 'sitting on the shelf' and regarded as 'cash for toffs'.

A spokeswoman for the Treasury said: 'A number of recommendations from the Goodison review are being implemented.'