Asian Art Collector Sues Museum Built for Her Collection

Architectural rendering of the Helga Wall-Apelt Center for Asian Art at the Ringling Museum of Art

Collector Helga Wall-Apelt is suing the museum to which she pledged her $30 million collection—some 1,700 objects including jades, bronzes, stone sculptures, and photographs. And if matters don’t get resolved, when doors open on the Helga Wall-Apelt Center for Asian Art in January 2016, they’ll be doing so without her gift, according to Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune. Wall-Apelt filed suit in May against the Ringling Museum of Art, Florida State University (which owns the museum), and the school’s fundraising arm the FSU Foundation in Sarasota, Florida, for failure to comply with her gift.

The 74-year-old, German-born Wall-Apelt, a former Ringling board member, was furious that her gift, made in 2006, has still not been given the proper public presentation she was promised. In addition to her collection, her gift included millions of dollars in continued support as well as the remainder of her estate after her death. A year after the original agreement was signed, the collector wrote a check for $4.1 million for the Center’s construction, an amount promised to be matched by state funds, and another $2 million, to hire the curator.

“Here we are, almost nine years later,” Frank Rodriguez, a member of Wall-Apelt’s legal team said, “and she is out $6 million and the use of the collection and what does she have to show for it?”

The Ringling Museum asserts it has complied with the agreement.

The collection started with a Buddhist statue that Wall-Apelt, a former internist and radiologist, was given from her father, a wealthy German Jewish doctor who escaped to Switzerland as the Nazi party rose to power. That sparked Wall-Apelt’s curiosity about Eastern medicine and the function of Asian art in healing.


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