Rudolf Zwirner Rallies Germany’s Top Gallerists in a Campaign Against Its Protectionist Art Laws

In the run up to Germany's election, the dealer is calling on the art industry to vote for the liberal Free Democratic Party.

Rudolf Zwirner. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

German art dealer Rudolf Zwirner has circulated an open letter through the Federal Association of German Galleries and Fine Art Dealers calling on gallerists and cultural figures to cast their vote against the highly unpopular cultural heritage protection law in Germany’s upcoming election in September.

The legislation stipulates that dealers and collectors must obtain a permit in order to export artworks older than 50 years or priced over €150,000 ($170,000) outside of the European Union. Additionally, an export permit is required for works over 75 years old and over €300,000, (340,000) within the European Union, which goes against the free trade status quo agreement between EU countries.

The legislation was fiercely opposed by Germany’s art dealers, artists, private collectors, art fairs, auction houses, museums, and just about everyone else working in the country’s cultural sector. Prominent critics accused the government of overreach and unnecessary bureaucracy.

Culture minister Monika Grütters of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party proposed the controversial new laws. Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images.

In June 2016, the grand coalition between Germany’s two largest parties, Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted for culture minister Monika Grütter’s proposed amendment without challenge from the opposition, which abstained. Since its passage the law has had, in some cases, the opposite effect, with nervous collectors quickly taking their prized artworks out of the country before they are subject to any regulations.

In his open letter, Zwirner called the new cultural heritage protection legislation “a striking example of bureaucratic overregulation.” Adding that “no other EU member state is subjected to such stringent and complex approval procedures for art imports and exports.”

His solution is simple: Vote for Germany’s liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). “The FDP rejects the law in its current form. It constitutes an unacceptable intervention into the market and contradicts the consensus of the European Union and a free European art market. Four years of the grand coalition without serious opposition are enough. It is high time for a liberal voice in our parliament to be heard again.”

FDP candidate Christian Linder speaks at König Galerie on April 21. Photo: FOCUS via YouTube.

And it’s not only Zwirner who’s putting forward a case for the the FDP. In April of this year, fellow dealer Johann König hosted a talk with party leader Christian Lindner at his Berlin gallery to discuss Germany’s role in the EU, Brexit, and the rise of populism in Europe.

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