Retired museum directors attempt to strike down new art protection law

A group of retired museum directors has penned an open letter calling for a proposed art protection law to be struck down ahead of its ratification by the upper house of the German parliament on Friday (8 July).

The controversial new law restricts the sale of artworks and artefacts considered to be of significant cultural value to buyers both inside and outside the European Union to prevent them from leaving Germany. Spearheaded by German culture minister, Monika Grütters, it has attracted criticism from artists, art dealers and institutions concerned with its impact on the art market and on loan agreements between collectors and museums.     

In a final push to halt the bill’s progress through the German parliament, eleven former museum directors wrote to the sixteen-member chamber of states, which has the power to prevent the law from being enacted. Written by the former head of the German Historic Museum in Berlin, Hans Ottomeyer, the letter was also signed by Klaus Gallwitz (Städel Museum, Frankfurt), and archaeologist Wilhelm Hornbostel (Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg). The signatories favour a UK-style system of temporary state preemption in preference to the proposed cultural heritage protection measures.

Echoing the letter, culture ministers from three of Germany’s sixteen federal states launched their own last-minute protest to shut down the proposed law. The ministers from Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, and Lower Saxony cautioned that the new measures would result in significant costs exceeding the compensatory relief offered by the federal government.

For Ottomeyer and his fellow signatories, it may already be too late. They argue that the economic repercussions of the bill are already being felt with dealers and collectors removing works from Germany in anticipation of its ratification. “The exodus is underway, the damage is already large and hardly reversible,” their letter states.

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