Loretta Würtenberger in Conversation

PODCAST: Würtenberger discusses her forthcoming book and the thorny issue of estates.

Loretta Würtenberger

In collaboration with the Art Market Monitor, artnet News continues with its podcast series exploring the global art market.

Marion Maneker, the Art Market Monitor’s publisher, recently spoke with Loretta Würtenberger, who with Daniel Tümpel runs Fine Art Partners in Germany. Before joining Fine Art Partners, Dr. Würtenberger was a partner at Blue Corporate Finance. In 1998 she founded web miles AG. She has been actively adding to her own collection for a number of years, and in 2007 founded the Contemporary Arts Alliance, a nonprofit organization supporting young artists who live and work in Berlin.

This conversation ranges over the challenges of financing art deals, from how artworks are bought and sold in this new market environment to the subject of guarantees and auction strategies. The interview also addresses the challenges facing artists’ estates.


Loretta Wurtenberger

Loretta Würtenberger

Marion Maneker: Let’s switch for a second and talk about artist’s estates, because I know the other part of your business is advising artist’s estates, and helping them manage the estate. I know that you’ve done, or are in the midst of doing, a lot of work with the Arp estate. Could you sort of walk me through your relationship with them, and what you were able to do, and where you see it going next?

Loretta Würtenberger: The estate management side is one that is particularly close to my heart. It is extremely fulfilling to work with estates on a long-term basis. It’s something which is not directly connected to our financing business. It’s really more about using our know-how in the art market to the best benefit for the estates.

What we have been doing with the Arp estate and which we also do with the estate of Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Keith Arnatt, and Wolfgang Tuempel, is that we manage three pillars. One is the contact to the museums, making sure that the artist stays in favor of curators. It is about enabling each curator generation to re-find their way to interpreting the artist and by that keeping the discourse alive. The second pillar we work on is the field of academia, which is often strongly interlinked with the museums world. We all know many wonderful publications come out of the museum world. On the other hand, people in the art historical departments look at what’s being exhibited. And the aim of an estate should be to keep the discourse within academia and the museum world alive, and not having the artist being forgotten by these two very strong and important institutions. And the third pillar is the art market. Prices are made in the art market, we all know that if the prices rise the artist’s esteem rises. It’s really a triage between those three pillars. Managing an estate successfully means to service these three pillars in the best way for the artist. It is about supporting his work as well as his market support.

Most estates own a large body of their artist’s work. They often finance themselves by selling work, so they have a vital interest in a strong market. Ideally they have the means to support the market and having the right galleries in place and by that securing their own future financially mid and long-term. Making works available on the market side, as well as the museum side is a very important part of an estate’s policy. To give you an example: some weeks ago, we heard the news about the Rauschenberg estate selling all the later works of the later period of Rauschenberg to six museums. And if you see what PR, what media reaction that evoked, and that six museums were interested in them, I’m sure that people will look differently at this period of his work.

When we started working with the Arp estate, we were confronted with questions of casting rights and posthumous additions. The most important thing is to create confidence in the artist’s estate and you can only do this if you are transparent about the estate’s work. So for us, within the Arp estates, one of the most important things to do was to publicize a catalogue raisonnée, and to open the achieves. Today the Arp estate even gives out art scholarships to art historians working with the estate’ archives, and promotes conferences on Arp-related topics. The next one will take place in 2015 and will look at and America’. The United States were the most important market for Arp in the ’50s and ’60s.


Marion Maneker: And museum shows planned as well?

Loretta Würtenberger: Absolutely, in 2017 the National Sculpture Center is planning a big Arp retrospective. In 2015 the Hepworth Wakefield, I don’t know if you know about—


Marion Maneker: Yes.

Loretta Würtenberger: —Is a very good museum in the middle of England, is planning a Arp retrospective. The aim of the estate is to not only react to loan requests, but to go more actively out. They have re-defined themselves as a service to museums, as well as a service to researchers, giving them all the information they need, and going very proactively out and not only lending to, but also initializing, exhibitions. The estate actually owns the largest Arp collection in the world.


Marion Maneker: And is that a big part of it, these estates not necessarily having a road map, or a plan that it too often ends up being a few family members with really no experience or strong sense of how to do this eventually waking up one day and realizing there’s a big job that they don’t really know how to get started on?

Loretta Würtenberger: I don’t know if I always envy heirs to artists estates. Just imagine inheriting the estate of your father or your mother, and them then posthumously continuing to be a part of your everyday life. Many people are happy when they’re able to lead their own lives independently from their parents when they’re adults, so I find it very brave and admire if heirs take on that responsibility. But this emotional link also means that it is sometimes difficult to step back and have a more objective view of what there is to do. There are wonderful examples of great artist’s widows, great artist’s children, but there are also many examples where the children or the grandchildren were struck down with that burden. Then it is very advisable to engage outside know-how, to engage people who have a more emotional distance. Many artists’ estates have often relied on tax advisers and lawyers only. The Arp Foundation for example, certainly also has lawyers involved very closely. I am a trained lawyer myself. I see the total value of lawyers in this. But sometimes it’s important to also involve people who have a deeper understanding of the structure of the art market and the museum side, and how it all plays together—the tax side, the law side, the art market side, also a strategic PR marketing side. Then you can get the best out of it for the artist and his oeuvre.


Marion Maneker: So does that mean it’s sort of a unique set of talents that has put you in this position? Or are there other people who are doing this kind of estate advisory work?

Loretta Würtenberger: There’re not many. Actually, I’m only able to name one whom I admire greatly, who’s Barry Rosen in New York, who has really made the Eve Hesse estate. He has been an outside adviser for Helen Hesse, the sister of Eva Hesse, for over three decades. If you look at how he has handled the estate and has really made what it is today, I admire him greatly. Aside from him, I don’t see many. Which is actually a pity, because I think there’s so much out there to do in that field—


Marion Maneker: —Especially if this, the expansion of the art market that we see, the demand side is getting bigger. One of the limitations is just on the structure of the artist’s estates, and the work that is either not available, or not fully understood. There’s an infrastructure issue with the art market that the auction houses and dealers used to provide that, for a number of different reasons, isn’t really their primary concern these days, and maybe ought not to be. But no one else has really stepped forward and taken that on, and built the structures that would be the underpinning of an artist market.

Loretta Würtenberger: You have mostly galleries representing artists’ estates, and there’s a tradition of galleries representing artists’ estates, but I think an adviser as we are, one, will never compete with a gallery. We don’t’ substitute the galleries at all. We, e.g., in the case of Arp, always work together with the gallery.

We are very, very happy that two years ago Iwan Wirth took on the Arp estate, representing that estate on the art market next to Mitchell-Innes & Nash. We work very close with David and Iwan, supporting the work of the galleries in the best way to benefit the estate. So I think it’s important to stress that, that we’re never in competition with the galleries. It is even the contrary: many galleries are happy that on the side of the estate they have professionals to talk to.

There are some very good examples of estates that are capable of structuring without outside advice. I’m thinking of, I also greatly admire the Judd Estate. They have the burden of a lot of real estates. They own so many buildings. They’ve been able to renovate their wonderful building in Spring Street. They do academic work. They’re very serious about the whole archival work. It’s also fascinating what the Warhol Foundation is currently doing in selling off their entire stock in order to benefit young artists. It’s a total paradigm change going on.

Most artists seldom leave cash, but rather works of art to their estates. And then the estates suddenly have the burden of running an estate which costs many 100,000 dollars or Euros a year if you do it modestly, even a small structure, or 1–3 million if you do it in a larger structure. In order to finance this, the estates are dependent on selling works. But the outside world expects them not to sell, which is kind of contradictory. I always found it more honest if an estate like the Judd Estate, or the Warhol Estate, doesn’t do the selling secretly, but markets is proactively. I think that going out proactively makes those sales successful because people even have that side effect that if they buy a work out of such a sale, they also do something good by supporting the estate’s work. Most estates simply have to sell from time to time, they have to sell to create endowments, and creating endowments then can relive them from selling more in the future. But if you do so, do it actively, stand behind it, and do it professionally.


Marion Maneker: One last question: In part of the [unclear] and some of the other estates, I think it was the Rauschenberg, and several of the estates, and some of the controversies of estates in the last few years. There was a very good article that pointed out that there’s been a huge growth in the number of artists’ estates in the last 20 years, I think the last 10 years there’s been a surge of it. And I presume some of it is the tax laws, but it’s also become a thing to do. One, are you seeing something similar in Europe, and two, what are the ramifications of more artists, long before they reach the end, thinking about and establishing estates, and either doing it more professionally or waiting for someone else to take it over?

Loretta Würtenberger: I think it’s a development more common in the United States, having to do with your tax laws. I also have to say, that many of the American estates are real role models for state-of-the-art estate management. They’re managed more professionally than many estates I have seen in Europe. But there are also very good European estates: think of the Henry Moore foundation, a wonderful institution with very, very professional structures, and a great success model. But in general, I think European estates can learn a lot from American estates.

I’m currently writing a book on the topic of estate management. It is due to come out in late 2015, early 2016, dealing with the most of the issues related to estate management. One aim of my book is trying to transfer the American know-how to Europe.


Marion Maneker: Well, I can’t wait to read the book.


Listen to the full podcast.





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