Retired Museum Directors Launch 11th Hour Bid to Stop German Art Law

The law awaits final ratification by the upper house tomorrow.

The German government's cultural protection law will effect the global art market. Photo: Cezary Piwowarski via Wikimedia Commons

Germany’s art scene is making a last-ditch effort to stop the controversial and hugely unpopular cultural heritage legislation. The law was passed by the lower house of the German parliament two weeks ago and is awaiting ratification by the upper house this week, on July 8.

In an 11th hour bid to stop the ratification, three federal states—Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, and Lower Saxony—have warned against the high costs of implementing the law, which will come out of the federal states’ budgets. The relief provided by the federal government, the culture ministers of the three states claim, are not sufficient to compensate for the anticipated additional expenses.

In addition, a group of 11 retired museum directors have written an open letter to the chamber of states. The chamber consists of the minister presidents of each of Germany’s 16 federal states, and has the power to stop the law.

According to Die Welt, former directors including Klaus Gallwitz (Städel Museum Frankfurt) and Götz Adriani (Kunsthalle Tübingen) and the archaeologist Wilhelm Hornbostel (Museum of Arts and Crafts Hamburg) have asked the state heads to reject the proposed changes to strike down the law at the final hurdle.

State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. High on the meeting's agenda was discussion of the German military's presence abroad. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.

State Minister Monika Grütters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.

Critics of the law have long stated that the amendment will damage not only the market, but also Germany’s museums, as collectors would withdraw loans.

The directors argue that the law has already caused significant damage and, contrary to its intended purpose, has resulted in collectors, dealers, and institutions preemptively taking works out of the country before the law comes into force.

“Since the announcement of the legislative proposal, the market for art and historic items has increasingly shifted away from Germany and towards art market centers such as New York, London, Paris, and Zurich,” the letter says. “Germany is already at a disadvantage and will continue to lose collectors, dealers, and many works of art. The exodus is underway, the damage is already large and hardly reversible.”

Hans Ottomeyer. Photo: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images.

Hans Ottomeyer former head of the German Historic Museum, Berlin. Photo: John McDougall/AFP/Getty Images.

The writer of the letter, Hans Ottomeyer, former head of the German Historic Museum in Berlin, argues that the law primarily increases bureaucracy and insufficiently defines what falls into the category of “nationally important cultural goods.” Instead, Ottomeyer and his fellow signatories want a system of temporary state preemption as is practiced in France and the UK.


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