Could a push to charge artists a $6.50 storage fee completely hobble one of the art market’s most ambitious experiments in financial engineering?
The Artist Pension Trust is as closely watched a gambit as any in the art industry. Now, however, APT is under mounting pressure, with a group of very vocal artist-critics lawyering up to beat back an unpopular policy change, and a high-profile group of former Trust directors publicly speaking out against their former employer.
Since its founding in 2004, the Trust has signed up some 2,000 artists to donate works yearly, with the idea that pooling the proceeds from sales of the art will allow for a steady stream of revenue to be returned to participants, akin to a pension. Art careers are highly variable, with long-term success being hard to predict. The APT’s driving hypothesis was that, over time, the big winners would compensate for the many less successful artists, thereby providing some financial security for artists as a whole.
On the strength of this idea, the APT is said to have amassed some 13,000 works, making it one of the largest collections of contemporary art anywhere. It has only begun to attempt to test the marketability of the collection, and the current, very public spat with its own artist-participants is a bad omen.
Lawyers Get Involved
The recent wave of anger from artists in the Trust was triggered by a new rule requiring participants to pay for storage of the art they have contributed to the fund ($6.50 per month, per artwork). A source told artnet News that artists were originally informed that they had 21 days to vote on the amendment, but also that any non-response would be regarded as consent. If they declined, artists were told that they would be required to house the work elsewhere at their own expense.
At the same time, it appears that APT is asking artist to keep any reclaimed work in the Trust, abiding by the terms of the original consignment agreement. That is, if they take back their artwork and store it themselves, and then sell it, the proceeds are still shared three ways, with 40 percent going to the artist, 32 percent to the artist pool, and 28 percent to APT.
The new storage policy was to take effect on September 1. Now, artnet News has learned that after extensive backlash, the new policy is on hold—temporarily at least.
On October 3, participating artists received an email from APT general counsel Shai Feingold that began, “It’s me, Shai from APT, the man who wrote the new sales policy.” The notice went on to explain that APT had “chosen to temporarily freeze the storage fees outlined in the new policy, as well as the fees outlined for extraordinary works.” However, he writes: “It does not mean storage fees are off the table.”
Feingold’s notice also makes reference to “ongoing discussions” with attorneys representing the aggrieved artists, specifically Gregory Clarick and Melissa Holsinger of the firm Clarick Gueron Reisbaum.
artnet News reached out to the lawyers mentioned, who confirmed the discussions. “We are pleased to serve as pro bono counsel to more than 30 artists invested in APT,” Clarick said via email. “Our clients remain steadfast in insisting that APT may not use a flawed voting process to adopt contract amendments allowing brand new storage fees or otherwise rewrite its agreements to impose such fees. We are pleased that APT has agreed—at least for now—to cease these efforts.”
Feingold charged that Calabrese was “working to undermine the foundations of a program which, to-date, has distributed $1.3 million to artists,” calling her posts “one-sided and skewed.” In a slightly nasty dig, Feingold added that Calabrese was “up to date with her investment schedule” (i.e. she has received previous payouts) even though her works “haven’t elicited commercial interest.”
This, in turn, has only produced more anger from some artists, with multiple artists on the APT Artist Solidarity page expressing outrage and sharing emails they had sent to the APT in Calabrese’s defense.
The conceptual artist Helen Mirra told artnet News that she personally wrote Feingold, stating that the personal attack of Calabrese standing out as highly “unprofessional.”
She added that communications between artists and the trust appeared to have disintegrated since the start of APT more than a decade ago, becoming mired in “poor communication with inexperienced regional directors.”
As an example, Mirra mentions an incident in September 2016. In her account, after being told by a regional director that an artwork she was contributing to the trust would be picked up from her in two weeks, she packed the work for long-term storage and brought it to a temporary location to be picked up—only to be ignored. “No pick up… I sent multiple emails that were unanswered, then in May—eight months later—received a message that actually, no, it wasn’t going to be picked up. Then that person left APT.”
Confusing communications have also aggravated the current dispute over fees.
Despite the freeze in the new storage policy, one artist (in the Asia Trust) told artnet News said they had received even more recent emails telling them that APT has “started the process of consigning works back to artists,” with a deadline of closing third-party storage in the month of October. Other artists confirmed that days after Feingold’s email putting a hold on the fees, and as recently as October 9, APT was still sending notices saying that it would begin invoicing for storage fees.
Others who refused proposed contract amendments said they have received them again, as well as consignment forms for them to take back work and agree to receive it in “as is” condition, a term that understandably sparked further concern.
In an email to artnet News, Feingold said, “as previously stated, we have put the charge of storage fees on hold in order to enable fruitful discussions with the artists’ representatives.”
Former Directors Speak Out
Echoing many of the artists that artnet News spoke with, Mirra’s letter expresses outrage about the way the new storage fees have been presented.
“You write that APT is not a free storage provider,” she wrote to APT management. “But our contracts state that this IS part of our agreement. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but this is how it works with galleries, and museums—if we entrust our works to them, they cover the costs of safe handling and storage. It is not a favor, or a show of charity, or of generosity. This is part of the usual, familiar deal.”
We reached out to Feinberg for comment. The storage fees “were never the core issue of our new Sales Policy,” he wrote. “I will say, that we have had a very favorable response to our new Sales Policy in Europe and Asia and less so in the US. The sole reason for putting implementation of these fees on hold, is to provide a hospitable environment for the negotiations we are having.”
In a separate communication, he added, “Contrary to what some may think, APT was not created as a free storage solution. APT is a unique programme in the art market, whereby 72% of the proceeds from the sale of every artwork go back to the artists.”
However, in what must be a particularly acute public embarrassment, no less than seven former APT officials—including past directors of the New York, London, Berlin, and Dubai Trusts—have put their names on an open letter of solidarity with the aggrieved artists. This letter expresses “deep disappointment in the direction APT is moving,” saying that the policy changes deviate from the original vision of the Trust as they understood it. (The letter is publicly available on the APT Artist Solidarity Facebook.)
Here it is, in full:
Dear APT Artists,
The Artist Pension Trust’s recent proposal to pass an amendment to your 2006 Artist Participation Agreement has incensed hundreds of artists who signed and agreed to the terms presented in the original 2006 contract. This amendment is not in keeping with APT’s founding proposition. We are aware that many of you have expressed that the proposed changes were relayed in a manner that lacked transparency, deference or recourse.
We the undersigned put their professional standing on the line as stakeholders in a vision that aimed to give artists a form of financial security and mutual assurance. While APT was developed with the advice of art professionals and with curatorial direction, this recent amendment in no way represents the founding principles of the company as we understood it. We wish to express our deep disappointment in the direction APT is moving and to voice our solidarity with those artists whose grievances need to be addressed.
Pamela Auchincloss, Former Director of APT New York
Kirsty Ogg, Former Director of APT London
Kay Pallister, Former Director of APT London
November Paynter, Former Director of APT Dubai
Susanne Prinz, Former Director APT Berlin
Lissette Garcia, Former Regional Director APT New York
Justin Merino, Former Director General of APT Institute and Director of APT Artist Relations
Lars Bang Larsen
Carole Ann Klonarides
Gerrie van Noord
Ginger Shulick Porcella
María Inés Rodríguez
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