Major Amendment Coming to German Cultural Heritage Protection Laws


Painting of German Literary Great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe by master painter Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

The rumblings began this past Spring, when art critics around the world adamantly opposed a plan to redraft German Cultural Heritage Protection Laws under the guidance of Culture Minister Monika Grütters, who intended to make it much more difficult to sell German art that could be seen of significant cultural heritage value. According to a DW Magazine article, “The proposed legislation aims to scrutinize the sale of any artworks or artifacts valued at more than 150,000 euro ($164,000) and older the 50 years, intending to both stem the flow of the illegal sale of antiques and keep works in Germany which are considered ‘national treasures.'” The criticism was led by the “world’s most expensive living painter” and German native Gerhard Richter. Part of the efforts, according to the article, would include the integration of the 2014 European Union Convention on the Protection of Cultural Heritage into German Law.

In response to the protests of the art community, including several artists withdrawing all their works from German museums as a caution against possible restrictive export laws, the draft bill was revised in September. According to Art Net, changes included that “Artworks traveling within the EU require an export permit if the works are older than 70 years and valued at over €300,000. The statement emphasized that the entire contemporary art segment is unaffected by these requirements,” and that “works by living artists may only be added to the list of nationally significant cultural goods with the artist’s permission.” The target for putting the law into place was early 2016 at that time.

Then this month, the German Federal cabinet approved the revision to the law. According to the Art Law Report, criticism from artists and art critics remain strong, although the bill is much more watered down than the original. While the sale of older works are still being restricted, the laws are inapplicable to either contemporary art works or living artists.


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