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David Hockney art gifts win him top rank in British philanthropy

May 01, 2012|By Mike Boehm
  • Artist David Hockney in his London studio.
Artist David Hockney in his London studio. (Graham Barclay/For The…)

Great Britain’s most munificent philanthropist of the moment is artist David Hockney, who landed at the top of the nation's annual Giving List by donating more than twice what he’s worth to his own art foundation.

Hockney accomplished this miracle by donating art, not money, according to the Giving List, which is compiled by Britain’s Charities Aid Foundation in partnership with London’s Sunday Times newspaper.

Hockney, worth an estimated $55.2 million, transferred paintings valued at $124.2 million to his David Hockney Foundation, and kicked in an additional $1.2 million in cash to help fund the foundation’s operations, according to a Sunday Times report this week. The rankings were based on donations made in 2010.

Hockney plans to give away the paintings through the foundation, with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Tate in London reportedly high on his gift list.

He was nowhere near Britain’s most generous donor in terms of the value of his contributions, but topped the Giving List because it’s based on the percentage of net worth given. Hockney's “giving index” score of 230 means he gave away 2.3 times what he’s worth. The runner-up, financier Christopher Cooper-Hahn, scored 80 by giving away 80% of his net worth -- $117 million of an estimated worth of  $146.1 million.

Using the more commonplace measure of monetary value parted with, music and airline mogul Richard Branson was by far the biggest giver in Great Britain, at $581.6 million -- 10.5% of his estimated wealth.

Two eminences of the realm – and of pop-flavored musical theater – made the rankings: Elton John, a perennial on the list,  came in ninth by giving $50.5 million, or 14.1% of his estimated worth, and Andrew Lloyd Webber contributed $31.8 million, 3.3% of his estimated pile, to rank 39th. “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller debuted at No. 20 on Britain’s philanthropic hit-makers’ parade, giving $46.6 million, or 7.6% of his wealth in his first appearance on the list.

We’ll leave it to others to decide whether giving away the paintings one has created, as Hockney is lavishly doing, is as grand a philanthropic gesture as giving away the paintings one has acquired via purchase or barter, or the cash one has earned or inherited.

The United States government doesn’t think so. In 1969, Congress took away artists’ ability to follow Hockney’s route to philanthropic celebrity. Since then, IRS rules have said that, for tax purposes, artists can't deduct what their work is worth on the market -- only the cost of the raw materials that go into creating it. However, collectors who own Hockneys and give them to museums can deduct the full market value.

A bill now in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Artist-Museum Partnership Act of 2011, aims to restore creative artists' right to write off the full market value of what they create when donating their own works to nonprofits.  But Congress has been down this road before, to no avail for would-be artist-philanthropists. The current bill, submitted by Rep. John Lewis(D-Ga.) and 32 co-sponsors, has languished in the House Ways and Means Committee for more than a year. A companion bill in the Senate, introduced by New York Democrat Charles Schumer, also is stranded in committee.

The report announcing the Giving List notes that not all is rosy for Britain’s philanthropic high rollers: government austerity measures have been implemented and have backfired, the economy is reeling, and the Sunday Times reports that the chancellor of the exchequer, in a bid to boost revenues, has proposed a national budget that would limit the tax break for charitable donations to no more than a quarter of the giver’s annual income.

 RELATED:

Rich List 2012/The Giving List

America's top 50 philanthropists include 12 arts donors

Hockney ranks LACMA near top of list for future donations

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