Art Dealers and Gallery Owners Say NEA Doesn't Affect Business

Article excerpt

A diminished National Endowment for the Arts will have little impact on business, say art mavens who make their living in the marketplace. Federal tax policies wield much more influence.

The commercial art world wouldn't blink if the National Endowment for the Arts disappeared, according to sculptor John Duff. "A bad real-estate dealer or a mediocre stock broker still gets by," says Duff, who has been working in New York for nearly three decades. "With artists and dealers, only those at the top make money."

The controversy surrounding the NEA began in the eighties with debates over works like Piss Christ, the photograph of a crucifix in a jar of urine by Andres Serrano. But Serrano received modest support from public sources. (The NEA customarily presents $20,000 grants to individual artists.) His work was and continues to be displayed primarily in privately owned galleries, of which there are more than 2,000 nationally, about 750 in New York alone.

Indeed, only 1 percent of the NEA's current budget of $172 million goes directly to individual artists. Upperechelon art dealers maintain that government tax policies, especially as they affect donations of artworks to museums, wield a far stronger influence on the art world.

"Many of my buyers donate these works to museums, so if tax deductions are reduced, it affects me profoundly," says Alice Adams, a Chicago art dealer who specializes in German Expressionist drawings. When the Tax Reform Act of 1986 made it disadvantageous to donate appreciated personal property to nonprofit organizations, gifts to museums dropped off sharply; five years later, when tax breaks were restored, the overall value of deductions increased by $3 billion and major museums reported substantial increases in giving.

Still, gallery owners express concern about the perception congressional battles will have on the art world. …