Austrian Mega Collector Francesca von Habsburg Threatens to Move TBA21 Foundation to Switzerland

Her 'legendary collection' isn't getting enough attention in Vienna.

Francesca von Habsburg: Art collector and owner of art foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (T-BA21) Photo: Greg Gorman via frodo.at

Austrian mega-collector Francesca von Habsburg has threatened to move her contemporary art collection out of Vienna, frustrated that her self-described “legendary collection” is not getting the attention it deserves.

In an interview with the Swiss Sonntagszeitung that has sent shock waves through Austria’s art scene, Vienna’s best-known arts patron complained that the city wasn’t making an effort to keep her private museum in Austria. With the lease on the building housing her collection expiring in 2017, and no new location being offered by Viennese authorities yet, she’s considering moving her art foundation, TBA21, across the border to Switzerland, the country of her birth. There, she said, her collection would “be a nice addition to Zurich.”

A move to a larger space in the museum quarter near Vienna's train station is said to have contributed to von Habsburg's deliberations. Photo: TBA 21 Foundation

Hopes for a move to a larger space in the museum quarter near Vienna’s train station are said to have contributed to von Habsburg’s deliberations.
Photo: TBA 21 Foundation

Von Habsburg’s sympathizers are less than surprised, saying that contemporary art doesn’t really stand a chance in the capital of art nouveau and nostalgia.

They point out that the Generali Foundation moved to Salzburg in 2014, BAWAG Contemporary closed in 2013, and the Essl Museum in nearby Klosterneuburg is on the verge of collapse due to financial problems. On the other hand, over the past year, Vienna Fair was renamed Vienna Contemporary, a new version of Vienna Fair was launched, and the city welcomed the first Vienna Biennale.

The city councilor for culture, Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, insisted the scene is alive and well. He praised Habsburg’s conceptual art collection as an extremely important and appreciated component of the city’s cultural landscape. He added that the local government would be prepared to hold talks over a solution, but warned the city could not pay for a private collection.

Vienna has been criticized for being too conservative to appreciate contemporary art. Photo: Fisk Frisk magazine

Vienna has been criticized for being too conservative to appreciate von Habsburg’s contemporary art collection.
Photo: Fisk Frisk magazine

Supporters have held up von Habsburg as “the Peggy Guggenheim of Vienna.” However, von Habsburg expressed her disappointment with the low visitor numbers to TBA21 and lack of interest in contemporary art in Vienna. She described Vienna as “static,” and concluded by saying “Austria isn’t for me after all.”

The current exhibition at TBA21, by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, runs until the end of November, after which the foundation will remain closed for the winter to allow for time to deliberate. No upcoming exhibitions have currently been announced.

Having married the grandson of Austria’s last reigning emperor, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, the 57-year-old collector enjoys a special status amongst Austrians due to the nostalgic glamour of royalty and wealth.


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