The Artist Pension Trust

The first year of the Artist Pension Trust has resulted in the collection of approximately 65 artworks by 50 fine artists in the New York branch and the expansion of the trust’s program to Los Angeles and London (England), with other regions in Asia, Europe, and South America in the works, according to David Ross, president of the trust. By July, he noted, an artist trust should be in operation in Berlin, with separate but similar programs set up in 2006 in Beijing, Bombay, Seoul, and Tokyo in Asia, as well as Mexico City and São Paolo in the Americas. Yet another is slated for Istanbul in 2007.

The concept of the Artist Pension Trust (156 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010, 212.871.1011, <>) is for participating artists to donate 20 of their works to the trust over a 20-year period (two per year during the first five years, one per year for the ensuing five years, and one piece every other year for the remaining 10 years). The New York Artist Pension Trust should have reached 100 works after the first year, and the remaining pieces are committed to the program but currently on loan to museums for exhibition. Each of the trusts has its own regional director and selection committee, which invites artists to take part in the program based on their “talent and promise,” Ross stated. The New York region consists of artists east of Chicago, while the newer Los Angeles branch focuses on the United States west of Chicago.

The artworks in the trust are conserved in storage over the 20 years, although Ross noted that they will be made available to museums for exhibitions, as well as to scholars for study. However, they would not be rented out for corporate or other clients. “They aren’t decor,” he said. “We’re not a corporate art lending service.”

After a period of time (15 years is the expected length), and depending on what takes place in the careers of particular artists, individual pieces will be put up for sale, and the proceeds of these sales will be deposited half into the specific artists’ accounts and half into a general pool that will provide retirement income for all of the participating artists. At some point in the future, an international selling committee, which is separate from any of the selection committees, will be formed. Consisting of art consultants and dealers, this group will determine if, when and where artworks from any of the trusts are to be sold. According to Pamela Auchincloss, director of New York’s Artist Pension Trust, sales are likely to take place through galleries. “Auction is not our preferred return to market,” she said, noting that there is a larger element of risk in public sales and “because dealers want control over the placement of the art.” The fact that selection and selling committee members are more apt to come from the gallery world than from auction houses, she added, tilts the scale toward art dealers.

Auchincloss stated that the program of keeping artworks off the market allows artists to reap the rewards of their own art’s appreciation, rather than seeing that increase in value enjoyed solely by collectors. Similar to the artist resale royalty, a law that exists in France and some other European nations requiring artists or their heirs to be paid a percentage of the increased value of their work when sold on the secondary market, “the appreciation in value can be recaptured by artists themselves” who are participants in the trust, she said. However, unlike resale royalties, the trusts are for the mutual benefit of all the artists participating and will “help artists who aren’t doing as well.”

New York’s program was the first to start up, back in April 2004, completing its first full year last month, while both Los Angeles and London came into existence more recently and have not yet rounded out the 50 artist slots. Every year for a period of five years, the selection committee for each trust will pick 50 new artists, reaching a total of 250. After that, the process begins again, starting a new trust for the next group of 50 artists, picked by a new selection committee. A different group will provide “a new take on art,” Auchincloss said.