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The $8 million commission of Coloring Book Number 4 (2016) by the US artist Jeff Koons, for a new stadium is the most expensive public art project in the history of California’s capital city of Sacramento -and the acquisition of the work is causing controversy among local artists and politicians. ‘Why should we give Koons, the whole pig and only get the hoof?’ said artist Marco Fuoco in a televised debate last month.

The work is being funded mainly through the city’s Percent for Art programme (PCA) which requires developers to set aside 2% of construction costs for public art which otherwise would be taxed. In this particular case, PCA will contribute $5.5 million (from the construction budget for the Entertainment and Sports Center stadium) towards the cost of buying the work from Gagosian Gallery. The rest is coming from the owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball team (the total of $8m covers installation and acquisition). A further $1.5 million is earmarked for stadium commissions by local artists.

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The question that these public schemes raise is whether they aim at financing a kind of monumental art that otherwise could not be produced or whether they are ways for property developers to promote their projects by either associating it with a brand like ‘Jeff Koons’ or by gaining access to the big business that gathers around Larry Gagosian’s dinner tables. In other words, who are we trying to help: the local artists or the businessmen?

When in office (I used to be the Undersecretary of State for Culture of Argentina) I was involved in the negotiations of a similar scheme for my hometown, Buenos Aires. In those early stages, the main reason that artists and art galleries said they had for endorsing these public funding schemes was to support local artists. Schemes like PCA are meant to become tools for local artists to get funding for monumental commissions. But let’s see what happened in reality…

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A year ago,  Argentine property developer, Eduardo Constantini, announced the purchase of a (oh surprise!) Jeff Koons’ sculpture from Larry Gagosian gallery which would be placed outside his brand new luxury condos development in Miami Beach. This purchase was funded using the same sort of scheme which, evidently, did not favour local art production but ended up associating his project to that corporate brand (managed by Larry Gagosian) called ‘Jeff Koons’. In other words, Costantini transformed a progressive public scheme of tax incentives into an advertising tool to make his project more appealing for property buyers while, at the same time, making everyone believe that his real interest is art.

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Mr.Costantini owns the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires which not only charges for admission but also has been built on public land. In spite of the fact that the reason of being of that collection is to exhibit latinamerican art, he has almost exclusively been exhibiting the works of artists managed by international galleries such as Victoria Miro or Larry Gagosian. Once over dinner he told me that art was his key to a world he did not have access beforehand. In other words, he built a museum (with a poor collection) to be able to interact with certain social circles where he could advertise his business projects and sell to them. This, of course, raises a very important question which is whether it is fair for the tax payer to finance these parties where the rich sell property to the rich under the belief that they are actually helping the arts when the only thing that they are doing is helping themselves (and Larry Gagosian…). It seems that government should be smarter when dealing with tax incentives in the art world. There too many sharks out there waiting to take advantage of whichever is there to be taken advantage of. J A T

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN MY REVIEW OF JEFF KOONS’ RETROSPECTIVE AT THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF ART IN NYC, THIS IS YOUR CHANCE