Art Attack

Pop Goes the Warhol

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Controversy arose when a German museum sold the two works by Andy Warhol to the United States.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    What happens if a casino owned by the finance ministry sells works of art – can the proceeds go to state public art institutions?

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Andy Warhol, the father of pop art, created works which reproduced iconic popular culture motifs in the United States.
    • The German constitution includes a requirement to protect and maintain art works which are owned by the state.
    • North Rhine-Westphalia, a state in Germany, fears that it will not get any proceeds from the sale of two works by Andy Warhol, art fans have voiced concerns.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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The way a casino is decorated is not always what gets people most excited.

But now one casino’s interior design choices have Germany’s art scene up in arms.

Ever since it became known that Westdeutsche Spielbanken casino planned to ask Christie’s to auction two valuable works by Andy Warhol, the father of pop art, art fans and institutions have been outraged.

Now, 26 directors of museums and galleries in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia have written a three-page letter to the state’s premier and ministers.

The letter explains why the two works, “Triple Elvis” and “Four Marlons,” should not be sold.

The casino originally bought the silk screens, showing Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando, in 1977 and 1978 for decoration.

The real question is whether the income from the sale should go to the casino or to the state government.

The works had previously belonged to Peter and Irine Ludwig, art collectors from the region. The planned sale contravenes UNESCO and ICOM (International Council of Museums) conventions which seek to protect public ownership of art, the museum directors argued in the letter seen by Handelsblatt. Prominent figures in Germany’s art world argue that the planned sale is merely for financial aims rather than public good.

Christie’s estimated that together, the two artworks are worth up to $130 million. They are due to be moved from Aachen, a town on the German border with Belgium, to New York. The letter’s authors noted that this way, no sales tax will be paid on the pieces.

The real question is whether the income from the sale should go to the casino or to the state government.

“This is a burning political question with enormous implications,” the letter noted.

The money question gains additional weight because of the financial problems of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which has been blighted by de-industrialization in recent years.

The curators and gallerists asked whether the recent UNESCO resolutions do not apply in this case. They also argued that the planned sale, currently slated for November 12, will damage the image of the state. “After losing our coal and steel, are we to lose culture too?” they wrote, referring to the decline of industry in the region.

They fear they are powerless to prevent the sale of the works in New York. They hope that the money from the sale can be spent in the state’s public art institutions. They reason that because the casino is indirectly 100 percent owned by the state’s finance ministry, which is also subject to Germany’s constitution. The constitution includes a requirement to protect and maintain art works which are owned by the state.

 

Susanne Schreiber writes about art for Handelsblatt. To reach the author: schreiber@handelsblatt.com.

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