German Officials Plan To Prevent Portigon State-Owned Art Collection From Deaccession

Last month 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, decided to deaccession its entire art collection. The bank holds approximately 400-pieces of art, which includes works by Pablo Picasso, August Macke, Joseph Beuys, and Günther Uecker.

Now officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia are preparing a plan to save the collection of the state-owned bank, Rheinische Post reported.

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, and would need to sell its collection in light of the European Union ordering the bank to sell its assets to pay back a bailout package borrowed in 2008.

In light of this disturbing decision, the NRW Finance and Culture ministries are considering a three-step plan to keep the collection’s most significant pieces, including works by Pablo Picasso, August Macke, Joseph Beuys, and Günther Uecker in Germany.

The decision to sell the collection has unsurprisingly attacked condemnation. Monopol reported that German Culture Minister, Monika Grütters, threatened NRW with federal intervention if the state-owned company continued to deaccession of what are nationally significant cultural artifacts. The move comes after the NRW-owned casino conglomerate, Westspiel, sold two Warhol screenprints in November for over $100 million to help finance its debt in a disturbing new trend amongst German companies to clear state debts.

NRW’s state museum responded last last month by saying: “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.”

The first step of the plan will be to artificially reduce the market value of the collection. This will be done by imposing an export ban on the most significant works, so that the masterpieces will become less attractive to investors and consequently decrease in value. In addition, the market value of the collection is to be lowered to its insurance value, which, according to Finance Minister Norbert Walter-Borjans, is about €28 million.

The second step is to find private sponsors who would be prepared to purchase parts of the collection and accept to loan them for public display. The chemical company Evonik, the Essen National-Bank, and the Henkel Foundation are rumoured to be interested in a partnership.

If private funding doesn’t suffice, the third step would use the income from the sale of two $151.5 million Warhol silkscreen prints at Christie’s in November bolster the plan.


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