Sep 17, 2018

Bureaucracy and strict cultural heritage laws are hurting German auction houses.

Some German auction houses are choosing to hold sales in neighboring countries due to a stringent new law protecting cultural heritage that requires onerous documentation to import and export works. This, combined with a high sales tax rate (19 percent) and additional artists’ insurance tax (4 percent), has caused German auction houses’ sales to slip in recent years, according to a report by The Art Newspaper. Berlin-based auction house Grisebach has suffered, and Munich-based Ketterer Kunst has hired an extra full-time employee to handle the additional bureaucratic burden of the heritage law, which requires auction houses to keep documentation on each lot for 30 years.
“That’s an extra few tens of thousands of euros I would have liked to have for advertising,” Robert Ketterer, the owner of Ketterer Kunst, told The Art Newspaper.
He added that the law has also made it hard to secure major consignments. “We have noticed it has become a lot harder because a large number of works of art were transported abroad, mainly to the UK and Switzerland [before the law took effect].”
Despite being Europe’s largest economy, Germany accounted for just 2 percent of the global art market in 2017, and no German auction house ranks in the top 10 by total sales for the first months of 2018. There’s been a steep drop since the law was passed in 2016, as that year, both Grisebach and Ketterer were among the top 10 among their rival houses. “We blame this on an increasingly hostile environment for the art market,” said Micaela Kapitzky, a Modern art expert at Grisebach.