It is now widely accepted that laws are needed to stem the trade in looted antiquities and to protect a nation’s most important heritage. It is therefore remarkable that a draft law leaked by the German Federal Ministry of Culture could cause such an uproar as the draft new law on the protection of cultural property this summer. One of the country’s most famous artists, Georg Baselitz, withdrew works he had loaned to German museums in protest; billionaire Hasso Plattner has threatened to move his collection to the United States, and Mayen Beckmann, Max Beckmann’s granddaughter, has said she will remove her works from museums.
An open letter to the ministry signed by 259 art dealers, including Johann König, Silke Thomas and Konrad Bernheimer, said the new law “shockingly resembles national regulations from Germany’s past”, while a petition “preserving the right to collect privately “had attracted 17,000 signatures at the time of going to press for The Art Newspaper. The outcry prompted Culture Minister Monika Grütters to make further amendments in July. The bill is now undergoing further changes after this failed to stop the outcry.
The bill includes provisions on the control of imports and exports of cultural property. It aims to curb the importation of illegal antiquities into Germany as well as to prevent national treasures from leaving the country.
There have been lingering criticisms that existing German laws on importing looted items are weak (some even say ‘shameful’ – see below). Grütters’ current bill proposes a series of due diligence measures on artefacts traded in Germany. The trader of cultural property valued at at least € 2,500 will need to examine the provenance of the object and the seller’s right to sell the property, and will need to keep records proving due diligence. For archaeological goods, the value drops to € 100. Items will also require an export license from the country of origin.
As antique dealers increasingly resist this aspect of the bill, the feud that has erupted this summer is over planned restrictions on the export of works of “national significance.” Any painting over 50 years old (possibly revised to 70) and valued at over 150,000 € (possibly increased to 300,000 €) would now need an export license even within the European Union ( EU). Licenses for works considered “national treasures” would not be granted, while all works in state museums (even loans) would now be classified as such.
Expropriation or exaggeration?
Grütters says the vast majority of the German art trade deals with contemporary art and would not be affected. She says lenders to museums will be allowed to withdraw from their “protected status” and adds that when an export license is required, more than 90% of cases would be granted. But critics describe this part of the bill as an “expropriation” of private property.
“It reads like something conceived under communism: the individual has no place, and culture is something led by the state”, explains Marcus Marschall, director of the Munich gallery Daxer & Marschall. “This will create [a level of] the uncertainty in the market that could kill him, ”he adds. “No one will import art into Germany for fear that they will not be able to leave the country. Marschall says the proposal reminds him of Italy’s export law, which states that any work of art over 50 years old and made by an artist now deceased requires a license if it is to be exported. The law has had a crushing effect on the Italian art market.
Others say the reaction to the bill borders on hysteria. Export licensing systems within the EU are not uncommon. Like Italy, France has strict legislation and export permits are also required in the UK.
However, and here is the “crucial distinction” in the UK, according to London merchant Philip Mold, when an item is considered a national treasure, the nation or individual must raise the funds that a foreign buyer is willing to pay. to keep it in the country. Mold says, “I can’t stress enough the difference between a system that matches the funds and a system that just says ‘No, you can’t export it.’ If it belongs to the latter category, it is equivalent to confiscating the full value of the object from the owner. This prevents you from entering the international market, ”he says. But Grütters has already rejected the “British model”, claiming that it leads to the export of the most expensive items and that “the only protected items are those the state can afford to buy”.
The bill is expected to be submitted for public consultation in September. It is planned to be enacted in 2016.
The law is vital to protect heritage
Germany needs a law to curb the trade in illegal antiques and protect its most important heritage, said Hermann Parzinger, chairman of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The current legislation on the importation of cultural objects “is really shameful,” he said. “Archaeological objects, which are the most endangered, can be imported into Germany without any problem if they have not been listed by the countries of origin. It’s crazy. If the Islamic State or other criminals from the Middle East or Latin America loot, how can the country of origin list the items? ”
He also says that there must be restrictions on the export of national heritage. He says that what counts as Germany’s national cultural heritage “must be rethought”. It designates “a Caravaggio from our museums, or a small painting from Italy that we cannot [afford to] buy more like [we could] in the 18th century ”as objects to be protected. “Of course, there will also be things that art dealers don’t like very much, but politicians need to have their say. [German cultural heritage] should not only concern German artists or German heritage, but objects which are important for our cultural institutions and our self-understanding.