What's Behind the Brant Foundation's Recent Give to Bard?

Let's say one of the writers here at IP, strangely enough, was also a wealthy private art collector. You, dear reader, become friends with this individual, and eventually, you schedule an appointment to view his collection on a sprawling private estate in the hills of rural Connecticut.

Nothing out of the ordinary about that, right? Of course not.

But what if the collector in question operated as a nonprofit charitable foundation? And what if the collector in question was Peter Brant? And (lastly) what if the estate was known as the Brand Foundation Art Study Center?

Then things get a bit more dicey.

As ArtNet News asked point-blank back in January, "Is the Brant Foundation a Tax Scam or an Art Investment Vehicle?" Like a growing number of private exhibition spaces, the foundation's Art Study Center is classified as a tax-exempt nonprofit charitable foundation, thereby enabling its founders to "deduct the full market value of any art, cash and stocks they donate, even when the museums are just a quick stroll from their living rooms."

What's more, one would be hard pressed to convincingly argue that the Study Center enthusiastically throws its doors open for the general public. There's no obvious signage and visitations are by appointment only.

We'll table the nuts and bolts of this argument for the time being—needless to say, these foundations argue that they're diligently following the letter of the law—and instead use it as a lens to view recent Brant Foundation-related news that may very well dovetail with this aforementioned controversy.

The foundation awarded a $1 million grant to Bard College's Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS Bard) to support curatorial studies and art history at the curatorial school in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. In addition, the grant will fund a fellowship for the art academic Alex Kitnick, who'll teach at CCS Bard and Bard College under the title of Brant Foundation Fellow in Contemporary Arts. Lastly, the money will pay for acquisitions for CC Bard's library and archive.

The gift comes on the heels of other foundations seeking to strengthen the curatorial field at both the undergraduate and graduate level. For example, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation allocated $2 million to create the Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program, which provides specialized training in the curatorial field for students across the United States from diverse backgrounds.

Needless to say, the Brant Foundation's grant is the kind of gift that's immune from any talk of chicanery or "scams." If anything, its inherent purity and unsexiness suggests—consciously or otherwise—that Brant wants the arts philanthropy world to know it has more to offer than epic parties at its exclusive, invitation-only enclave in Greenwich, CT.

This logic also underscores the selection of Mr. Kitnick as a Brant Foundation Fellow. The foundation has no ongoing fellowship program, so the appointment of Kitnick, who received his Ph.D. from Princeton and whose CV effortlessly encapsulates both the academic and commercially oriented aspects of the curatorial world, may be a harbinger of a deeper commitment to Bard and curatorial studies. 

Oh, and one last thing. We know what you're thinking, and we're guessing those epic parties are invitation-only.