Did Christo’s project really cost the French taxpayer nothing? – Release

Question asked by Pifou on September 14, 2021,

Hello,

The work, monumental, is talked about a lot. Since September 18 and for sixteen days, it is possible to admire the last piece of the duo of contemporary artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude on the Place de l’Etoile in Paris: the Arc de Triomphe packaged. Installed after the death of the couple, (Jeanne-Claude died on November 18, 2009, Christo on May 31, 2020), it required 25,000 meters of fabric, 3,000 meters of rope and the intervention of many technicians and trades. different. Total budget for the operation: 14 million euros.

The project does not cost the State a cent, according to the artists’ entourage, being entirely self-financed by the private sale of original works (drawings, models, etc.). A central condition for making the couple’s temporary works of art a popular event, accessible to all. Faced with criticism speculating on the amount of public aid injected into the packaging of the Arc de Triomphe, the Elysée has insisted on this point. in the press : “There have been misunderstandings about the cost. This project does not cost the state anything. It is entirely financed by Christo, it costs nothing to the French taxpayer ”. The National Monuments Center, which gave its agreement to Christo’s team, also confirmed, on September 12, that it should not “Assume no cost”.

A speech that hardly convinces the Internet user (Pifou) who questioned us, and who brought to our attention a text published in the Official Journal in 2019. This is a “Notice of appeal to corporate sponsorship for the acquisition by the State of a work of major interest for the national heritage”. By this text, the Ministry of Culture informs companies (subject to corporation tax) that they can “Benefit from the corporate tax reduction […] equal to 90% of the payments that they could make, within the limit of 50% of the tax due for the year in question, by participating in the acquisition by the State, for the National Museum of Modern Art -Industrial creation center, a set consisting of 36 original works (collages and drawings), a model, archival documents, photographs and engineering elements, built around the Pont project- Nine packaged by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Paris, 1975 – 1985 ».

Very concretely, this means that companies have been called upon to help the State to acquire the Pont-Neuf collection (whose temporary packaging took place in 1985) on behalf of the Pompidou center, in return for a very generous reduction of tax. And that consequently, the State renounces tax revenues equivalent to 90% of the purchase price of this collection, fixed by the notice of call for patronage at 6 million euros. That is to say a theoretical shortfall of nearly 5.5 million euros (if the limit of 50% of the tax due is not reached).

If nothing is directly asked of the taxpayer, since it is the private companies which are concerned here, this approach however represents, in fact, a shortfall for the tax authorities. Therefore, you ask us if this represents a form of public funding of the works of Christo. And therefore, a questioning of the self-financing model advocated by the artist and his team.

«Software» et «hardware»

Contacted on this subject, the Ministry of Culture at the initiative of this call, did not wish to follow up and returned CheckNews towards the Center Pompidou. The latter, requested, confirms that this call for corporate sponsorship has taken place as part of the exhibition of “Pont Neuf packed» held from July 1 to October 19, 2020. “A company responded to this call and financed all the parts of the Pont-Neuf»Says the museum.

However, it is difficult to establish with precision to what extent the sale of this collection from Pont-Neuf was used to finance the packaging of the Arc du Triomphe, in a logic of communicating vessels. What is however certain is that the funds obtained have fueled the company set up by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, la holding CVJ (for Christo Vladimirov Javacheff), headquartered in the United States. Their team specifies to CheckNews : «All the products go to the Estate Christo et Jeanne-Claude. On a virtuous circle model, the sales of collections are used to finance the assembly phase of the works, which is very expensive. But the financing is done on the fly. For example, right now, Sotheby’s is holding an auction to finance the Arc de Triomphe project.»

This economic model was in fact theorized by Christo himself. He thus distinguishes two phases which, put end to end, constitute the work of art as a whole. First there is the “software“(The realization and then the sale of sketches, drawings, preparatory models) and”hardware»(The montage in itself of the temporary work). The first thus making it possible to finance the second.

National treasures and major works

Still according to the team of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the fact that sales to public museums take place in the phase of “software” rest “exceptional”And is not the main source of income for the holding company, mainly provided by private establishments. “During Christo’s lifetime, it happened on three occasions that cultural establishments acquired a collection. This was the case of the Running Fence project, acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, of the Wrapped Reichstag whose collection was deposited in the Bundestag in Berlin for twenty years and, finally, of the collection of the Nine Wrapped Bridge, for the Center. Pompidou. These institutions considered the timeless heritage value of works that marked the cultural past of a city, beyond the work itself which is temporary.»

Exceptional or not in the sales history of the artist duo, this approach by the Ministry of Culture in favor of the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude does not surprise specialists in the question. First, because the procedure in question, although “infrequently used because only very large companies can participate“, Remains relatively classic – and, in any case, perfectly framed by the law, explains Sabine Rozier, lecturer in political science at the University of Paris-Dauphine, specialist in cultural corporate sponsorship. “By encouraging patronage, the State does not finance the packaging in itself but a lasting collection, which will appear in a museum. If the State had not allowed the purchase of his works, it would have let them slip away ” adds Nathalie Heinich, sociologist specializing in contemporary art and author of New Bridge of Christo (Thierry Marchaisse editions).

It is indeed in this spirit that was thought article 238 bis-0 A of the general tax code which authorizes a tax reduction equal to 90% (within the limit of 50% of the amount of tax due) “in favor of the purchase of cultural goods from national treasures ” and “Cultural property located in France or abroad the acquisition of which would be of major interest for the national heritage from the point of view of history, art or archeology“. In this context, it is the Consultative Commission for National Treasures, referred to by the Ministry of Culture, which must give its opinion on the character of the work in question in order to launch the tax procedure. Thus, by way of example, in 2014, the Commission examined ten applications for recognition of major heritage interest. In 2015, four requests.

The cost assumed by the community

The procedure leads, in any case, to an extremely incentive tax system for companies. Sabine Rozier continues: “In general, companies recover 60% of what they have paid in the form of a donation (to works recognized as being of general interest), or even 75% when they are social works falling under the ‘Coluche’ system. State largesse can go up to 90% of the amount of the donation for specific works of the type ‘National Treasure’ (or, here, a work of major interest for the national heritage, editor’s note). For companies, the investment made is very profitable. It is a process allowing them at little cost to convey the image of a generous gesture, while the community bears the bulk of the cost of the operation.»

Does this mean, however, that this approach undermines the principle “self-financing“, Which the Christo team uses? “This is not contradictory with the idea that the works are self-funded. Whether it is a private or the State that acquires the work, it comes to the same», Considers Nathalie Heinich. Understand : in fine, tax rebate or not, the funds which return to the Estate of Christo and Jeanne-Claude after transaction are indeed private funds and not direct aid. Anne Bory, lecturer in sociology at the University of Lille and specialist in corporate sponsorship, summarizes: “We cannot say that this calls into question the self-financing model because in fact, from the point of view of the Estate Christo and by legal nature, the money comes from private companies. But in the end, what is presented as a private acquisition corresponds in part to public funds which the State has renounced.»

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