Wednesday, 6 April 2016

ArtNet news Continues Assault on German Cultural Property Law Proposals


Henri Neuendorf tells the international art market "Why You Should Worry About Germany's Radical New Cultural Protection Laws" (Art Newspaper, April 6th 2016). He is concerned about the draft amendments to the Kulturgutschutzrechts
The law seeks to tighten export regulations so that all artworks, even those traveling within the EU, require a government-issued export permit if the works are older than 70 years and valued over €300,000 ($326,000). [...] The reality is that the law will inevitably have a global impact. Germany is the largest economy in Europe and many of the world's leading artists, galleries, and museums, as well as a host of collectors and auction houses are based in the country. If it passes, the law will seriously complicate the flow of artworks and cultural objects in and out of the country. 
Neuendorf now (he's written attacking the law several times before) seems most worried over the definition of what constitutes cultural property of Germany, presumably it would be anything which, if removed from the country, would deplete the cultural resources available to German citizens,  like a Titian in Yorkshire, Greek marbles in Bloomsbury or  Sekhemket in Northampton.  This is what is making "collectors very nervous" (he means dealers of course).  A "prominent Berlin-based collector who spoke to artnet New on condition of anonymity" suggests “What the government is doing equates to expropriation". This seems pretty much an engineered storm in a teacup, the matter of what is allowed out of the country is something faced by every single country which values art and heritage.* The article does not even mention illicit antiquities. that's where the proposed changes have real repercussions for the "art (sic) market", but from my own point of view, tightening up the documentary side of that trade can only have a largely positive effect - remember "Germany is the largest economy in Europe and many of the world's leading artists, galleries, and museums, as well as a host of collectors and auction houses are based in the country".
The second debate of the bill is scheduled to take place in April. If the German parliament leaves the bill unchanged, it will proceed to a vote the next time parliament meets. 
Let us see what happens. Of course the real issue is that German dealers are worried that this new legislation brings into focus the issue of export licences, which of course is pretty unsettling for some sections of the market (antiquities for example) which are more "comfortable" dealing in items no-questions-asked (when those questions involve :"where, exactly, did this come from and how did it come onto the market?"). Could it be that bringing export licences to the forefront of discussions of licitness of all sections of the German market is going to put a few importers' noses out of joint? 

* Just the Americans do not seem bothered enough to regulate it by law and a proper licensing system (see the ongoing fuss over Native American sacred objects sold in Paris).

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