A controversial bill from Germany’s Federal Government Commission for Culture and the Media will move on to a public round of consultation and is expected to be voted on in parliament in 2016. The bill is intended to minimize imports of illegal antiquities and slow the export of significant artworks out of Germany. Furthermore, any work that is deemed a “national treasure” will not be eligible for an export license, meaning that it will never be able to leave the country. The German government, of course, decides what constitutes a national treasure. In the latest draft of the bill, any artwork over 50 years old and valued at more than 150,000 euros is considered a national treasure.
This bill has caused quite a stir since being leaked this summer. Many significant names in the German art community have reacted negatively to the movement. According to The Art Newspaper, renowned artist Georg Baselitz has pulled all of his lent works from German museums in protest and the granddaughter of the late German artist Max Beckmann, Mayen Beckmann, has publicly stated she also intends to remove her grandfather’s works from museums should this bill pass.
Wealthy art collectors such as Hasso Plattner have weighed moving the entirety of their collections overseas, which begs the question: will this bill do more harm than good? Yes, this bill infringes upon the legal rights of artists and collectors, but if it offends the art community to such a degree that any work unaffected by it is removed from state museums, the bill’s purpose is defeated. The museums will lose more significant artworks by passing a bill intended to keep art within country borders.
There are many people claiming that this new restrictive bill is far too reminiscent of those from Europe’s past. And while I think this is a far cry from communist oppression, these critics’ hysteria is justified to an extent. This is a government deciding where the work of artists can and cannot go, who can and cannot experience them and which artworks are worth protecting.
Now this bill addresses an important issue of protecting a country’s heritage. I am all for safeguarding a country’s individuality and culture. The uniqueness of a culture, however, is not rooted solely in artworks created by people belonging to it. Furthermore, countries need laws like this imposing certain restrictions on what can and cannot come and go into their nation. This bill just takes it too far.
To stop items from ever leaving the country is ridiculous. This is not healthy for the art world on an economic level, nor is it fair to the artists who created these pieces. Limiting art from leaving the country is essentially stopping business transactions from occurring. A similar law in Italy has had a negative effect on the art market there. There are more hoops to jump through to export work, and there is a distinct possibility that, if the German bill passes, many people will never be able to see artists’ work because the government has decided for the artist that their work is more important for Germany than it is for the world. This is a rather bleak future for artists and their work.
At the risk of being overly romantic and idealistic about the intention of art, this bill limits the effect these artworks could have on people around the world. Art is valuable, and because of that it is often hoarded but it does far more good when it is shared. When art is exchanged, it often sparks a global dialogue about important cultural, political and social movements. This bill is robbing international audiences of seeing and discussing influential art.