Want to Donate Your Collection to a Museum? Read This First

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‘Tis the season to give charitable donations—for tax reasons as much as philanthropic ones. But it’s not always simple to give an artwork or an art collection to a museum.

For most art museums, receiving donations of objects is relatively easy. The person making the gift turns over the items along with “a deed of gift, transferring title from the donor to the institution,” according to Ralph Lerner, a long-time New York City art lawyer and art adviser. The principal complicating issue is whether the gift is made right then and there or as a bequest and, if the donor is the artist, whether or not copyright (the right to reproduce images of the artwork) is included with the donation.

Retired Boston lawyer John Axelrod made one of those straight-out gifts back in 2008, donating his 377-work collection of decorative arts to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. “Curators from that department always wanted to borrow pieces, so I figured let’s just give them the whole thing, no strings attached,” he said.

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