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The GOP tax plan cracks down on fishy 'private museums' of the ultra-rich

  • A clause in the proposed tax plan announced by Republicans Thursday would end a loophole regarding private art collections that allowed art collectors to enjoy hefty tax breaks.
  • Those with substantial collections have been able to declare their galleries private museums — even galleries hosted in their own homes — raising questions in Congress.
View of the sculpture 'Pensive Woman' (1913/14) by German sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck during a press preview of the ImEx (Impressionism, Expressionism) exhibition at Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) on May 20, 2015.
John Macdougall | AFP | Getty Images
View of the sculpture 'Pensive Woman' (1913/14) by German sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck during a press preview of the ImEx (Impressionism, Expressionism) exhibition at Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) on May 20, 2015.

There could be a downside for the ultra-rich in the tax plan proposed Thursday by House Republicans: the end of a big tax break used by some art collectors.

A clause in the proposed tax plan announced by Republicans Thursday would end a loophole that allowed art collectors to enjoy hefty tax breaks by declaring the galleries holding their art collections to be private museums — even galleries hosted in their own homes.

By taking this step, the collectors were able to make tax-deductible gifts to the museum and they are able to avoid capital gains taxes if the value of the art appreciates.

In Nov. 2015, the Senate Finance Committee under Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, led a review of the practice, seeking answers from 11 private foundations about whether the "public interest was being met" with regard to the museums.

The review sought answers about how often the museums were open, and how easy it was for a member of the public to gain access.

Some museums, Hatch said at the time, were open as little as 20 hours a week, and would close to the public for months at a time.

According to an article in Town and Country, one such museum welcomed only 10,000 visitors in a seven-year period.

The new proposal would require art museums to be open during normal business hours to the public for at least 1,000 hours each year.