The ARTINFOgraphic: What 6 Major American Artist Foundations Spend Their Money On

The ARTINFOgraphic: What 6 Major American Artist Foundations Spend Their Money On

How much is too much to spend on an authentication lawsuit? The answer is $4 million, it seems, according to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’s most recent tax returns, just before it dissolved its authentication board in October 2011, citing rising legal fees. A few weeks ago, we took a look at museums’ finances, comparing the spending patterns of the troubled L.A. MOCA with several of the nation’s most successful institutions. This week, on a request from a reader, we took a similar approach to artist foundations, which continue to grow in size and number, but face hurdles in defining their scope and mission.

This time around, we again took data from the foundations' publicly available tax returns, but used a more visual approach to present it, creating charts to show the relative size and spending of some of the largest American foundations. In the charts, you can see how much each institution pays their directors (generally a handful of people) versus the rest of the staff, how much they pay in taxes, how many grants they pay out in a given year, and, importantly, how much they spend on legal fees. 

In 2009, the Warhol Foundation spent $2.57 million on legal fees (13 percent of its budget for the year). In 2010, that number skyrocketed to $4.07 million (20 percent of the annual budget). In 2011, the board was dissolved, though the foundation has not yet released tax documents showing their current legal expenses. On the flip side, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation has not spent any money on legal fees in the last two reported years (2008 and 2009) — however, it is a relatively small enterprise, with a part-time staff and no authentication board. Some foundations, like the Pollock-Krasner, give away millions of dollars in grants every year, mostly to artists and institutions. Others, like the Lichtenstein and Calder foundations, barely give any money away at all relative to the others, focusing on promoting their artist's legacy.

These ARTINFOgraphics compare the total assets of each foundation, and then break down each specific organization's finances in different charts, using data from the Economic Research Institute. ARTINFO used the two most recently available tax returns for each foundation, which was sometimes 2008-2009 and other times 2009-2010, depending on the organization. (The 2008 form for the Calder Foundation, however, was not available, so the charts are 2007 and 2009.)