“All Fathers Die, Not These!” Artists’ Estate Management as a Family Affair
Family members are usually the first people to be faced with an artist’s estate after his or her death, and families are also often the staunchest supporters in perpetuating an artist’s oeuvre. In this panel, the audience heard about the first-hand experience of a number of family members of artists. Magda Salvesen, author of the book Artists’ Estates: Reputations in Trust and curator of the Estate of Jon Schueler, who also moderated, introduced this very personal panel.
Mayen Beckmann, granddaughter of the German Expressionist Max Beckmann and manager of the Beckmann Estate, began by noting the she had not expected to takeover her grandfathers estate, which was originally split between family in the US and Germany. Her mother had formerly been the holder after inheriting from her husband, Peter Beckmann, the son of Max Beckmann. She (and her family) had to fight to have much of the estate since Beckmann’s heirs in the US had made plans without discussing them with the heirs in Germany. In her comments, Mayen Beckmann stressed the relationship she had with her grandfather’s paintings having grown up surrounded by them, and though she had not planned on stewarding her grandfather’s legacy it was a role for which she had a natural talent.
Mary Moore, daughter of British sculptor Henry Moore and manager of the Henry Moore Estate, spoke about the artists’ vision, and made a case for it being the most important thing for a foundation. She further spoke about growing up with Moore, about how she was “thinking, eating, breathing sculpture” for much of her youth—which continued into adulthood. After delving into the details of growing up with sculpture so much a part of her life, she noted how the care of her father’s estate was a “duty”; she further added that she thought the personal aspect, i.e., having a family member involved, adds something of the artist into the institution.
Flavin Judd, son of US-American artist Donald Judd and Co-President of the Judd Foundation, further highlighted the need for a personal connection with respect to an artist’s wishes, arguing that in his case it was absolutely necessary for he and his sister, Rainer Judd, to assert their father’s wishes with respect to the foundation. Immediately after Donald Judd passed away lawyers and others weren’t very helpful since they were trying to get the family to sell Judd’s properties; and the SoHo building, which was in quite bad shape, was thought not worthwhile. Despite this, Flavin and Rainer kept the property and thought long-term, eventually raising enough capital to renovate the property on Spring Street, in New York City’s SoHo district. Judd spoke passionately about the need for the apartment/studio on Spring Street as well as the property in Marfa, Texas, arguing that they were necessary for understanding the “context” of Donald Judd’s work.
Hélène Vandenberghe, daughter of Belgian painter Philippe Vandenberg and co-manager of the Estate Philippe Vandenberg, also focused on the familial connection, noting how she and her two brothers closed their father’s studio immediately after his death in order to try to figure out how to shape his legacy. This move allowed the siblings to reflect on Philippe Vandenberg’s oeuvre and determine what they thought should be done with it.
The audience asked whether or not being intimate with an artist might help one to understand the work better. There was a difference of opinion on how important context is; some think distance is good, so that you don’t always view artwork through the lens of one’s father’s work. But others, like Flavin Judd, stressed that the connection really does put the heirs in the best position to work with an estate or foundation.
This was a very personal panel, with all the panelists revealing intimate details about their relationship with their father (or grandfather in the case of Mayen Beckmann). But they also revealed numerous things that would be helpful for any artist estate or foundation, such as the importance of the work’s interpretation and how to handle pressure from lawyers and galleries.
Heirs and others who inherit an artist’s work are at the forefront of those bridging the gap between an oeuvre and its reception by the general public, which was traditionally the remit of art historians and museums.