Industrialist Buys Essl Collection for €115 Million

But he's still selling off its 44 best works.

Karlheinz Essl in front of a piece by Anselm Kiefer, not among those being sold in October Photo: Sammlung Essl via der Standard

In an 11th hour bid to save Austria’s Essl Collection, industrialist Hans Peter Haselsteiner has agreed to provide collateral for a new company that will purchase the collection of around 7,000 works from Karlheinz Essl for a sum reportedly in the realm of €115 million ($151 million). The agreement was reached in the early morning hours of Tuesday, according to lawyer Thomas Angermair, who arranged the sale and spoke with Austrian newspaper the Kurier.

Ten days of non-stop negotiations preceded the final deal. At the end of last week, information was leaked through the Handelsblatt that the entire collection would be sold at auction starting in October (“€160 Million Essl Collection Will Be Liquidated“). It’s unknown who leaked that information, but the reports could have prompted a resolution to the negotiations.

According to der Standard, Haselsteiner will assume a 60 percent stake in the company, SE-Sammlung Essl GmbH, via ZMH GmbH, which is owned by the Haselsteiner Familien Privatstiftung (Haselsteiner Family Foundation). Forty-two banks will act as creditors for the buyout. Foundations owned by the collection’s creator, Karlheinz Essl, and other members of his family, will assume a 40 percent stake in the newly-formed company.

The Essl Museum, located just outside of Vienna, will continue to operate for the immediate future. However, the museum will be forced to do so without its most prized works. According to the deal, 44 of the Essl Collection’s most highly-valued works will be sold at Christie’s London on October 13th, just before Frieze Week.

The Essl Museum of Contemporary Art Photo Courtesy of the Essl Museum

The Essl Museum of Contemporary Art
Photo Courtesy of the Essl Museum

Aside from two works by Austrian artists Maria Lassnig and Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the sale will consist of international artists. Those 42 works reportedly include pieces by household names such as Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Martin Kippenberger, Sigmar Polke, Andreas Gursky, Albert Oehlen, and Günther Uecker.

According to the Kurier, the 44 works are worth an estimated €50 million. All proceeds from the auction will go to the SE-Sammlung Essl GmbH’s creditors at which point the collection will be refinanced.

The Museum’s Future

The company retains the right to continue to sell individual works from the collection. However, any additional proceeds are restricted in their use to the development and maintenance of the Essl Museum. According to lawyer Angermair, the continued operation of the museum remains a “goal” of the SE-Sammlung Essl GmbH. However, he did not make any definitive assurances about the museum’s future. Karlheinz Essl and his wife Agnes are to remain responsible for the artistic direction of the institution.

Essl, the founder and owner of Europe’s BauMax hardware store chain, assembled the collection and placed it within a charitable trust two years ago. However, an unsuccessful expansion of his company into Eastern Europe and Turkey has left it near-insolvent. Due to an Austrian law that only protects assets placed in trust from bankruptcy proceedings after five full years, previous to Tuesday’s sale of the collection, should the company have gone under, the works would be subject to liquidation.

Essl initially attempted to sell the collection to the Austrian state in order to save an estimated 4,000 jobs at BauMax (“Essl Museum Founder to Sell €86 Million Collection to Save Company“). However, the state passed after critics suggested it should not interfere in the free market, regardless of any cultural weight the collection may have (“Fears of Market Destabilization Cloud Proposed €250-Million Essl Collection Sale“). The collection previously has been valued by various parties at prices ranging from €86–250 million. Sotheby’s and Christie’s most recently valued the 5,000 works that were initially reported to be headed to auction at €160 million ($211 million).

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