Lempertz will move some of its
sales and most of its
and antiquities sales out of Germany to the auction house it opened in Brussels in 2014, according to von Seldeneck. “It’s politics forcing us out of the country,” he said. The departure of the latter category from Germany hasn’t drawn the same level of media attention that has accompanied the outcries of major German artists and dealers. But it could be among the hardest hit.
The requirements put into the new law regarding the sale of antiquities and ancient cultural heritage were originally meant to hurt ISIS’s profit stream through alleged illegal trade of plundered objects. However, many suggest that the bill could effectively kill the global, not just Middle Eastern, antiquity market in Germany. Under the terms of the law, dealers and auction houses will need to secure an export license from an artifact’s country of origin.
That presents a massive hurdle for those looking to sell works excavated from countries in the Middle East in the midst of violent conflicts, such as Syria. But it’s also difficult due to the simple realities of geopolitics over long periods of history. As von Seldeneck explained: “Say I want to sell an 18th century Buddha, you now need an export license in order to do it. But if it’s from what’s now Tibet, there wasn’t even a country there at the time it was exported to grant one.”
Other portions of the market may be less seriously affected. “In terms of the contemporary art market, it’s going to have little impact,” said Hug of the law. For Art Cologne, according to the director, that means, long-term, more emphasis will have to be placed on that segment of the market. In the modern and post-war portions of the market, Hug suggested that, given time to adjust and get a sense of how regulators are judging works, things will likely even back out.
However, this marks yet another blow to Germany’s art market, which was already weak relative to the size of its economy. And that, market players agree, is a status-quo that fed into these very regulations. “Considering Germany’s economic and cultural power, we are hugely underrepresented when it comes to the art market,” explained von Seldeneck. The country accounted for just 2% of the global art market in 2015, well behind the U.K., which served as the venue for 21% of market activity. In the same year, Germany accounted for approximately 20% of GDP created within the E.U., while the U.K. accounted for only 17%. “There are a couple major galleries, a couple auction houses. But probably 95% of major sales of German art are happening outside the country already and even more will now,” added the auctioneer.
What’s more, said von Seldeneck, “There wasn’t even a need for this. For the last 50 years or so, pieces of national heritage could be put on a list and banned from export.” He’s referring to what’s called the Listenprinzip. It’s not the new law’s preservation of legitimate cultural heritage that hurts the art market, critics lament, it’s the blanket nature of the new regulations, which adds risk and red tape to every potential major sale.
With more favorable tax rates across the rest of the European continent and a post-E.U. Britain likely able to nix artist resale rights, the German art market may well suffer the fate of small and mid-sized galleries—promoting the scrappy and young, while failing to capitalize on the blue chip portion of their artists' careers. The mega-gallery hubs of Zürich, Paris, London, and New York may profit off the new legislation, but Berlin and Cologne will almost undoubtedly suffer.
—Alexander Forbes & Isaac Kaplan