The Picasso Museum in Paris has finally reopened, years late and awash in controversy. You can read a quite informative account of the entire affaire here. Never mind the art. What caught my eye in the TIMES story was the information that the Picasso family settled the enormous death duties occasioned by the artist’s great market success by turning over vast numbers of his art works to the State, which the State then used to stock the museum.
I am not even quite sure why, but that strikes me as just plain wrong. If the family decides to cash in on the old man’s success by selling his works on the open market, then sure, tax the bejesus out of them. But so long as they hold onto the paintings, sculptures, and what have you for themselves, they ought not to have to pay a tax on whatever inflated price the art world places on them. [Full disclosure: my wife inherited from her mother a clunky plug-ugly ceramic ashtray with “Picasso” written on the bottom of it. Apparently the damned thing is worth five thousand dollars in New York!]
I have no idea whether this gut reaction emerges from my pre-capitalist Id or my socialist Super-ego, but it rose up in me quite spontaneously when I read the story. I mean, if some idiot decides that the original hand-written copy of Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity is worth a million dollars, should my sons have to sell it when I kick off to pay the inheritance tax rather than keeping it around as a memento of dear old Dad?