Gerhard Richter Incensed by Proposed Museum Closure in Germany

Several works by Richter are in the museum's collection.

Morsbroich Museum, Leverkusen. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Morsbroich Museum, Leverkusen.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A major cultural scandal is brewing in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), after an auditor recommended the closure of the small but prestigious Morsbroich Museum in Leverkusen, near Cologne, so that the city could meet its austerity targets.

The proposal has outraged the German art community and none more so than Germany’s most successful artist, Gerhard Richter. According to Die Welt, the painter penned an open letter to the city of Leverkusen calling it an “alarming proposal,” and stressing that museums are not there to plunder when state funds run dry.

The consulting company KPMG has estimated that the closure and liquidation of the museum’s holdings could save the city €778,450 ($851,157) a year. According to the report, published on February 22, the closure could make “an essential contribution to achieving the consolidation objectives [of the city.]”

German art star Gerhard Richter criticized the planned closure of the museum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

German art star Gerhard Richter criticized the planned closure.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NRW’s culture minister Christina Kampmann described the institution as “a jewel in the museum landscape of North-Rhine Westphalia.” The cultural council of NRW echoed the sentiments, calling the idyllic museum “a gem of the region, with an international reputation,” and said it was “concerned that the city of Leverkusen was thinking about winding up the museum.”

Six years ago, the art critics association Aica bestowed the honor of “Museum of the Year” on the museum. The institution was a pioneer in staging shows dedicated to contemporary art after WWII, and has gained a reputation for developing thoughtful exhibitions, such as a show featuring the Berlin photographer Michael Schmidt’s Lebensmittel series in 2012, or a survey of ca. 500 of Gerhard Richter’s “overpainted photographs,” in 2008.

The museum is famous for its palatial rooms. Photo: Museum Morsbroich via Facebook

The museum is famous for its palatial galleries.
Photo: Museum Morsbroich via Facebook

Unfortunately, the numbers look grim. Leverkusen is one of the over 60 impoverished municipalities that signed up to Germany’s federal financial assistance program. In exchange for federal money, the municipality committed itself to rigorous austerity measures and maintaining a balanced budget.

Since its founding in 2001, the city’s cultural body KulturStadtLev has lost ca. €1 million a year.

The auditor’s report names two alternative measures including the deaccession of individual artworks—which is considered highly controversial in Germany—and the privatization of the museum.

Die Welt reported that a city spokesperson insisted the closure of the Morsbroich Museum is “one of several” proposals. The administration will submit a plan for the implementation of the proposed savings measures by June 27.

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