Home Historical art Calls for tax refund for art donations after historic BNZ Collection auction

Calls for tax refund for art donations after historic BNZ Collection auction

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New Zealand must introduce a tax refund to encourage the donation of important works of art to national galleries and collections, experts say, after dozens of nationally significant works of art were sold to private owners at auction this weekend.

On Sunday, Webb’s auctioned 50 works of art from the Bank of New Zealand art collection, totaling sales of more than $13.5 million, including a record-breaking individual work by Colin McCahon when it sold for $2.45 million.

But the auction was embroiled in controversy after former prime minister Helen Clark said the collection should have been kept by the government when BNZ was privatized in 1992, so it could have been attributed to national galleries.

“The State as owner had the possibility of separating the works of art [sic]”, clark wrote on Twitter over the weekend.

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Te Papa acquired

KEVIN STENT / Stuff

Te Papa acquired “Glenda at Tahakopa” by Robin White, left, at Sunday’s auction.

The Te Papa National Museum acquired two paintings at Sunday’s auction: “Glenda at Tahakopa” by Dame Robin White, for $406,000, and “Design” by Lois White, for $221,000.

Te Papa’s annual acquisition budget is $3 million.

The BNZ informed the museum in advance that the works were being auctioned, but there was no possibility for them to purchase works outside of the auction process or to receive items as donations, said Te Papa’s general manager, Courtney Johnston.

“We would have appreciated the opportunity to make an offer on the works before the auction. Te Papa would always encourage collectors to consider public collections, which hold items in trust for the community,” Johnston said.

Te Papa's managing director, Courtney Johnston, said he had a limit on what he could buy as the art market became more expensive.

ROSA WOODS / Stuff

Te Papa’s managing director, Courtney Johnston, said he had a limit on what he could buy as the art market became more expensive.

Te Papa had a limit on what he could afford to buy as the market became more expensive, so the public depended more on the generosity of collectors who chose to donate artwork, a Johnston said.

Several works of art sold at auction deserved a place in Te Papa’s collection, said its artistic director Charlotte Davy.

Rod Thomas, a professor at Auckland University of Technology, specializes in art law and said Aotearoa has a tax regime that encourages sales – not donations – of artwork.

Australia, the United States and Singapore offered significant tax breaks that encouraged art holders to donate to national galleries, such as donating to charity and recouping 33 cents per dollar.

Rod Thomas, a professor at Auckland University of Technology, said New Zealand lags behind peers when it comes to offering tax incentives to those who want to stream the art.

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Rod Thomas, a professor at Auckland University of Technology, said New Zealand lags behind peers when it comes to offering tax incentives to those who want to stream the art.

It was “far too late” to implement a cultural gift discount program in New Zealand, Kirsten Lacy, director of the Auckland Art Gallery, said in an interview. “Without that, institutions have to be the highest bidder. It is taxpayers’ money that goes to auction.

The country’s national collections would be “much stronger” with a discount program, she said.

BNZ plans to set up a philanthropic foundation with proceeds from Sunday’s auction.

Retired civil servant Suzanne Blumhardt, who is the treasurer of the Blumhardt Foundation and chairs the development committee of the NZ Portrait Gallery, said it was right for the foundation to support the arts.

Kirsten Lacy, director of the Auckland Art Gallery, says a discount on cultural gifts is long overdue in New Zealand.

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Kirsten Lacy, director of the Auckland Art Gallery, says a discount on cultural gifts is long overdue in New Zealand.

If the public has been unable to access the collection, the new BNZ Foundation could at least ensure that the arts community benefits from the proceeds of the sale, Blumhardt said.

Te Papa would also like to see the new foundation support practicing artists, Johnston said.

BNZ spokesman Sam Durbin said the bank was considering donating some or all of its collection, but decided setting up a new foundation was the best way to support the collection’s legacy.

The types of initiatives the new foundation would support were not yet finalized, Durbin said.

The second auction on September 27 would go ahead as planned.