Have you ever seen one of those antique “roadshows” on TV? If you have, you will know that the “provenance,” or history, of a piece plays a vital role in the appraising of the incredibly interesting things that make it to air on these programs. Many of the things you see on these “roadshow” programs were originally practical and manufactured by hand or machine. Their provenance often concerns the piece’s owners as opposed to their creators, but the artworks featured on the show, whenever possible, focus on the creator as well as the piece’s ownership history. The “roadshows” reveal how important it is that the history of the artist, whenever possible, remains attached to an artwork—that is, after all, why the tradition of signing artworks began.
When an artist thinks about his or her mortality, artwork, rather than a will, is the usual result.Artists should be aware of things as concerns their inventory of work at the time of their death. Have you made all your arrangements? Dedicated “amateur” and professional artists often produce hundreds of pieces of art during the course of their career. And as the risk of death increases, visual artists are wise to make plans for their artwork (in particular terms) and not leave their work as part of their general estate.
I have written extensively on the valuable role a well maintained inventory and sales record can play in an artist’s career, and about the essential value of a rationalized pricing strategy. The value of operating professionally with such systems in place is revealed if you ever have to make an insurance claim for damaged, lost or stolen artwork, but the final and perhaps greatest value of keeping such records can be at the time of your death. Keeping a detailed inventory of all your creations is very important.
To protect your legacy, make sure everything you do is dated and signed. Keep or make a detailed inventory and refer to it in your will. And leave a record of your thoughts about key pieces or about themes in your work and a brief biography. Remember, most collectors do not buy art— rather, they invest in artists. Your story is part of your creative legacy.
Often when an artist passes, he or she leaves behind unsigned art. Unsigned work has to be "signed" posthumously in order to authenticate it. Sometimes, an "estate stamp" is made with a facsimile of the artist's signature and unsigned pieces are stamped. Otherwise, the art may be estate-stamped and also hand-signed by a qualified third party such as an executor; or it is signed with the name of a qualified third party and not stamped. Sometimes a qualified third party signs the artist's name instead of his or her own.
None of the above alternatives match the value of you signing all your work. Dealers and collectors regard unsigned or posthumously signed works of art as less significant or desirable than signed works of art. When they find themselves dealing with unsigned art or art signed by someone other than the artist, they wonder: "Why didn't the artist sign this piece?" They may also wonder: "Did the artist not like this piece or think of it as incomplete? Did they consider it unworthy of a signature, insignificant or inferior?" Always sign your art.
If you keep an accurate sales record/inventory/pricing rationale, your art will be well organized for your executor. You will have eliminated anyone's having to guess when particular works of art were made, where they belonged in relation to the rest of your art, or what they mean. Such a detailed inventory and notes left behind by you will allow your executor to understand the continuity of your career through your art.
Price all your art when you enter it into inventory. Include current retail and/or wholesale prices if applicable. Seriously consider making an audio or audiovisual record of your career and leaving it for your executor. Even a relatively short piece can add immeasurably to your legacy as an artist.
Finally, have a disposition strategy. You, your executor and your dealer (if you have one) should work together to establish a sales strategy for any remaining inventory at the time of your death (or if and when you become intestate). Not having a plan can mean your work may be sold randomly and without exclusivity, offered to anyone the executor/dealer knows, offered at arbitrary prices, or “dumped” onto the market all at once. An estate without such a plan will not serve any artist well. Have, in essence, a marketing plan for your executors to follow.
* Provide your executor with complete contact information for your dealers, representatives, and agents along with instructions on how to work with those people.
* By planning ahead and sharing your strategy, all concerned parties will have the chance to clearly understand your plan and better be able to execute it
* Leave clear instructions on how your art is to be divided among family members, institutions, galleries, and other relevant parties. Make sure that everyone understands what they're going to get and, if necessary, why they're getting it.
* All instructions should be clear and sufficiently detailed in order to prevent infighting, arguments, or legal disputes over who owns or controls what, and how much that art is worth.