German Bank Portigon To Sell Art Collection In Disturbing Trend

With the continued controversy surrounding the sale of two Andy Warhol paintings, ‘Triple Elvis’ (1963) and ‘Four Marlons’ (1966), having been sold by the Westspiel casino conglomerate. Museum directors in North Rhine-Westphalia sent a petition to the regional government in an attempt to prevent the paintings’ sale at Christie’s New York last November.

In the ongoing storm of protest is emerged that the casino chain Westspiel is in fact a subsidiary of the State Bank of North Rhine-Westphalia. A fact that prompted German culture minister Monika Grütters of the center-right CDU party to accuse North Rhine-Westphalia’s centre-left-led regional government of selling the artworks in order consolidate state debts.

The culture minister 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.”

But the minister stated 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.

But Kraft subsequently acknowledged that 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 modernise it’s casinos.

Triple Elvis, sold at Christie’s as its most expensive lot at its postwar and contemporary art evening sale last November for $81.9 million. Four Marlon’s went under the hammer for $69.6 million.

This disturbing decision by companies to use their art holdings as a culturally disposable income appears to be becoming a trend in Germany. Now the German state-owned bank Portigon AG of North Rhine-Westphalia, the rebranded successor of the WestLB which folded in 2012 during the financial crisis, is to deaccession its entire art collection, Stern has reported.

The bank collection holds approximately 400-pieces of art, which includes works by Pablo Picasso, August Macke, Joseph Beuys, and Günther Uecker, and is to be sold after the European Union ordered the bank to sell its assets to pay back a bailout package borrowed in 2008.

Portigon Chief Executive Kai Wilhelm Franzmeyer told the press that there was “no alternative” other than to sell the company’s art collection to prevent taxpayers even further costs after WestLB accrued billions of losses.

NRW’s state museum has responded to the plans in a joint statement of museum directors from the state said, “Unlike an office chair, an important piece of public art cannot be replaced after it is sold at auction and disappears into a private collection somewhere in the world.” Further, to Portigon’s plans the directors denounced a “cynical” an offer by the bank to loan the collection for display before the sale as a museum show would increase the market value of the artworks.


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