To the resounding chorus of interest groups, the intricate dance of lobbyists and the promise of some stellar performances from congressional chambers, Washington ushers in each year with a battery of new laws. But, as in a long-running musical, the performers and thus the performances change only slightly, while the script and lyrics stay comfortingly intact.
Consider the following: as a result of passage of the 1984 Tax Reform Act, the Internal Revenue Service -- memorialized in story, less in song -- isssued a new set of temorary regulations earlier this month that require anyone donating artworks valued at more than $5,000 to obtain a "qualified appraisal." Because so many institutions rely on tax-deductible donations in acquiring artworks, reliable appraisals are a key element of the relationship between donor and recipient.
The problem, says a House Government Activities Committee staffer, is that the temporary regulations do not define what constitutes a qualified appraiser. Without such a definition, there is virtually no way appraisals can be verified and, more importantly, deductions substantiated. If a company such as the Container Corp. of America, which last week donated 311 20th-century artworks to the National Museum of American Art, for example, finds that its paintings have been overvalued by an unscrupulous appraiser, it could be penalized by the IRS.
"The problem is immense for donors," says Paul O'Brien of the American Society of Appraisers. There are approximately 50 appraisal organizations in the United States, he says, but "only eight are substantial, and only three train and test appraisers." It is still anyone's guess as to which appraisals the IRS will accept, and which will be challenged.
More laws: Massachusetts joined California and New York on Jan. 8 when Gov. Michael Dukakis signed into law a bill that protects artists' works from alteration or destruction after they are sold. The law covers original works of "fine art" of recognized quality. An artist may petition a judge to issue an injunction if he or she learns that a creation is about to be destroyed or altered. An artist's heirs, for 50 years after the creator's death, also can sue.
Though no Washington, D.C., laws protect the integrity of an artist's work, publicly or privately displayed, the federal city has seen its share of controversies. The tug of war preceding the installation of Frank Eliscu's bronze sculpture, which adorns the front of the Library of Congress' Madison building, is fresh in the minds of many public art watchers. A similar controversy revolved around Robert Berk's bust of John F. Kennedy. And, of course, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, has metamorphosed remarkably with the addition of Frederick Hart's sculpture of three servicemen.