Is Germany Using Warhol Sale to Pay Off State Debt?

Andy Warhol's Triple Elvis (1963) is one of the works being auctioned Photo: Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts via arthistory.about.com

A war of words has erupted in Germany as politicians have waded into the ongoing controversy over the sale of two Andy Warhol paintings, reported the FAZ newspaper. Triple Elvis (1963) and Four Marlons (1966) hold a combined estimated value of €100 million ($128 million) and are being sold by the Westspiel casino conglomerate

Museum directors in North Rhine-Westphalia sent a petition to the regional government last week in an attempt to prevent the paintings’ sale at Christie’s New York in November (see “Outrage Erupts over Casino’s Sale of €100 million Warhols“).

It subsequently emerged that the casino chain Westspiel is in fact a subsidiary of the State Bank of North Rhine-Westphalia. This prompted German culture minister Monika Grütters of the center-right CDU party to accuse North Rhine-Westphalia’s center-left-led regional government of selling the artworks in order consolidate state debts. She told FAZ: “Artworks are not objects of speculation for the public sector. To sell them in order to refill state coffers would be an indecent systemic failure. Art and culture entrusted to us must be protected on all levels.”

According to DW, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia Hannelore Kraft of the center-left SPD made it clear that she cannot stop the sale of Triple Elvis (1963) and Four Marlons (1966) because they are not items of national cultural importance as defined by the Culture Protection Act. In addition she said that the purchase of the paintings by the state was “currently not an option.” However Kraft assured the regional government that the money from the sale of the paintings would not be used to to pay off state debts. “This taboo will not happen,” she said.

In a letter in response to the museum directors Kraft said Westspiel had acquired the paintings with their own resources. And as the casino group is a legally independent company, the government has no influence over the sale of the works. Westspiel has indicated that it intends to use the proceeds to modernize it’s casinos.


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