Kunstsammlung NRW
Dr. Hagen Lippe-Weißenfeld, Christina Kampmann, Norbert Walter-Borjans, Dr. Peter Stemper (v.l.n.r. hinten), Dr. Marion Ackermann (vorne)

296 Works of Art and a “Lady”: the Birth of the New Foundation "Kunst im Landesbesitz"

A new foundation has been created to secure the wide-ranging art collection of the now defunct Westdeutsche Landesbank (WestLB) for the museums – and hence the citizenry – of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

For #32, Gerd Korinthenberg reports on how the art collection of the West-LB’s legal successor Portigon has come into public ownership through a remarkable cultural-political act: The atmosphere was almost celebratory – certainly, a feeling of relief hung in the air – when the responsible individuals from politics, business, and culture met in the 16th story of the Cultural Ministry of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia in order to set their signatures on various documents and certificates.

Exactly 296 works of art, plus the legendary "Lady Inchiquin" Stradivarius, which is currently being played by star violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, are now in the possession of the citizenry of NRW, or more precisely: of a new, legally dependent foundation that is affiliated with the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen. Cultural minister Christina Kampmann has set the material value of this "treasure trove" at precisely 29,264,385 euros. The purchase price, to be transferred to Portigon, was secured through an intricate contractual arrangement between the Ministries of Finance and Culture via loans awarded to the state owned NRW-Bank.

Found in the collection alongside the world-famous, 300-year-old "Lady" and another extremely valuable piece, an altar by the early Renaissance master Giovanni di Paolo, is an ensemble of works by among others Albers, Beuys, and Richter, along with works by Feldmann, Macke, Genzken, Knoebel, and Uecker. Eight of the pieces have been entered into the registry of national list of valuable cultural assets. Altogether 103 artworks were not designated for purchase because they lack any connection with the state of NRW.  

In the future, with expert and organizational support from the Kunstsammlung NRW, the works owned by the newly-established "Kunst im Landesbesitz" (Art in the Possession of the State) are to be loaned to museums located between the Rhine and Weser Rivers. Looking ahead, Marion Ackermann, artistic director of the Kunstsammlung, anticipates that alongside this "distributive function," the foundation may in the future offer a home to works of art from other state enterprises, thereby protecting them from potential sale. Implicit here is a reference to the vigorously criticized sale of two major works by Warhol by the state operator of a gambling casino Spielkasino Aachen: admittedly, the controversial auction – the target of media protest and vehement objections from two dozen museum chiefs throughout NRW – brought in €120 million, but also earned ridicule nationwide, along with sustained criticism of the federal state’s cultural policies.

The ethical codex that emerged from the context of the Portigon negotiations, which prescribes the diligent handling of works of art in state possession, is intended to heighten sensitivity to the need to be "consistently responsible" in dealing with publicly owned art, emphasizes Ackermann. Assuming the state cabinet in Düsseldorf approves the codex in the near future, then NRW will have learned something the above-mentioned losses – and will be one step further regarding public discussion about governmental responsibility for "its" cultural assets among the Federal German States.