Last week 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.
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.
The decision has unsurprisingly attacked condemnation. Yesterday, 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 week: “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.”
In response to the ongoing situation, NRW’s Culture Minister, Ute Schäfer, called on the federal government to share responsibility for the controversial sale. As the federal government is a silent partner in Portigon, it would be “significantly affected by the decisions [that are] taken,” Schäfer said in Düsseldorf. “Therefore the Federal Ministry of Finance must be involved,” she continued. Schäfer insisted that the Federal Ministry of Finance must support NRW, and called on Grütters to use her “influence on the Federal level,” to reach an amicable solution.
In the meantime, Portigon CEO Kai Wilhelm Franzmeyer, has been attempting to spread the responsibility across as many parties as possible. “The country as a whole has to think about which artworks it wants to keep—and how this goal is to be reached,” he concluded that this concerned politicians as well as “museums, foundations, corporations and individuals.” However, he stressed that any potential solution “must be legally and economically viable for us.”