Home to some 400 galleries and around 8,000 artists, Berlin has long aspired to be what its politicians call the cultural capital of Europe.
Yet, over the coming year, thousands of works by artists such as Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman and Gerhard Richter are set to disappear from its galleries, as the city wonders until where it needs to go to protect art collectors from a real estate boom.
Last month, the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum of Contemporary Art announced that Switzerland-based Friedrich Christian Flick withdraw your collection 2,500 modern works of art and bring them back to Zurich by September 2021, following a dispute over the Rieckhallen, the shed-like annex that houses his works.
Last week, the me Collectors Room in central Berlin, featuring a private collection of works by Cindy Sherman, Marlene Dumas, Georg Baselitz and others, announced that permanent closure would follow a shutdown linked to the coronavirus.
Its owner, Thomas Olbricht, the heir to hair products company Wella, said his decision to return to his hometown of Essen was a personal rather than a political one, although the Auguststrasse building, housing apartments of luxury as well as the gallery, will have been touched by the five-year rent freeze the city senate introduced earlier this year.
And last weekend the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported that billionaire collector Julia Stoschek was considering remove one of the largest collections in the world contemporary video and multimedia art in the city after being informed of a sharp rent increase for its premises on Leipziger Strasse, a former Czech cultural center owned by BImA, the German federal property services provider.
Berlin’s ambition to match the artistic standing of New York, London or Los Angeles had already been tarnished last December when it was announced that Art Berlin, the city’s most important contemporary art fair, would be abandoned in the midst of financial problems.
The Berlin media blame the losses on the indifference of the city’s Senate. “Berlin can act like it’s insanely stupid,” listings magazine wrote. Berlin tip. âSo stupid that three art collectors leave town within 14 days. “
Der Tagesspiegel, a local newspaper, saw the departure of the Flick collection as “further evidence of Berlin’s gradual metamorphosis from a creative hub into a bastion for real estate speculators.”
The Senate says it has its hands tied when it comes to real estate transactions in a city where local and national structures often overlap.
But Stoschek said it was not so much the impending rent increase that frustrated her as the lack of an invitation to find creative solutions, for example by integrating her collection into one of the museums in the city. ‘State.
“Not being the competent authority does not exempt you from feeling responsible for something,” she told the Observer.
For some administrators of the local government coalition in Berlin, where the cultural sector has been in the hands of the left-wing Die Linke since December 2016, refusing to pamper wealthy art buyers is also a matter of principle.
Flick, Olbricht, and Stoschek are all heirs to industrial fortunes outside of Berlin, and at least two of these dynasties are not without implication in the darkest chapter in German history. Flick’s grandfather Friedrich was convicted as a war criminal in the Nuremberg trials for using slave labor in his mines and factories. Stoschek’s great-grandfather was a member of the Nazi Party, and his company played an important role in the production of war material.
In Berlin, which has a surplus of artists producing works but a dearth of collectors to buy them, even old money with a problematic past was once much courted by Klaus Wowereit, mayor of the city from 2001 to 2014.
Under Berlin’s new left-wing culture senator Klaus Lederer, the mood has changed, collectors complain. But can they legitimately expect the state to protect them from a real estate market that is also supplanting other less well-funded cultural institutions, especially as Covid-19 threatens livelihoods in the arts?
The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages the Hamburger Bahnhof museum, wanted to show diplomacy in separating from Flick. But the way the boss announced his departure, in the midst of a global pandemic, has left some in the city disappointed.
The Rieckhallen annex of the museum which houses Flick’s collection extends over land owned by the Austrian real estate company CA Immo, which wants to expand its âEuropacityâ complex of high-rise offices and residences and has ruled out reselling the land. to the state.