Bilderverkauf vom Museum Langmatt: „Hochverrat am kulturellen Erbe“

„I cannot reword“Claude MonetPaul Cézanne’s house enjoys a great reputation throughout Europe. However, the museum is facing financial difficulties. Stegmann explains that they have been searching for sponsors for years in order to continue operating, but to no avail. Now, the board of trustees is resorting to a measure that is considered taboo: they plan to sell paintings from their own collection. Stegmann states, „This matter is very emotional for all parties involved.“ By mid-month, it will be decided which artworks will be auctioned at Christie’s.

The Villa Langmatt, built between 1899 and 1901, needs to be renovated for 19 million Swiss francs. In June, the residents of Baden overwhelmingly voted in favor of the city contributing 10 million to the renovation costs. However, this is not enough. An additional 40 million Swiss francs are needed to sustain the operation in the long term. This is due to numerous repairs needed on the building. The chimneys are at risk of collapsing, and a new security system is required. Other renovations in recent years have unexpectedly consumed large amounts of money, resulting in a depletion of assets, according to Stegmann. One to three artworks are planned to be auctioned off this autumn.

What the board of trustees intends to do is considered an absolute taboo by many in the industry. It is globally agreed upon that a museum collection should neither be touched nor sold. The international museum association ICOM even threatens the museum with expulsion. Such an expulsion would primarily be symbolic and serve as a warning to other institutions. However, the outrage is genuine. Tobia Bezzola, President of ICOM and museum director in Lugano, describes the sale of the artworks in Baden as a „betrayal of Switzerland’s cultural heritage“. A museum is meant to preserve art, not the other way around.

The art historian Bezzola states that the sale of artworks questions the power of museums. „Their capital lies precisely in permanently removing the works from the market cycle.“ That is why museums also receive high special discounts. Many museums receive works as donations or legacies. „This is only possible because it can be assumed that a museum does not act with a profit motive like a private collector or dealer.“ Bezzola fears that the sale of artworks by the Langmatt Museum will give politicians foolish ideas. „If a museum demands money in the future, they can say: Why not sell a few paintings!“

There are internationally recognized criteria for how a deaccession, which is the sale of collection objects, must be carried out. For example, the ethical guidelines of ICOM state that the sale of a work is only justified if the proceeds are directly and completely used to purchase other objects that enhance the quality of the collection.

In 2019, the Kunstmuseum Bern sold a painting from the Gurlitt collection to fund their own provenance research. Bezzola finds this action „unpleasant.“ He says, „We will have to talk to Bern again. I have heard that they now want to sell another painting.“ This could also happen at the Museum Langmatt. „Who guarantees us that in 15 years we will not have too little money again?“

The director of the museum, Markus Stegmann, in Baden, emphasizes that the board of trustees has thoroughly examined all possibilities before deciding to sell artworks. If Langmatt were to be closed and the collection transferred to another museum, it would disregard the intentions of the museum’s founder and son of an industrialist, John A. Brown. In accordance with his Last Will, the city of Baden established the foundation in 1988 to preserve the Villa Langmatt, its park, and art collection, making it accessible to the public as a museum.

ICOM President Bezzola has little understanding for this argument. „It happens time and again that museums have to give up because they can no longer make ends meet financially.“ In the Baden region, there are enough institutions that have the prerequisites to accommodate such a collection. Sometimes one must also disregard the will of a benefactor, „for the sake of art,“ as he says. Bezzola cites the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia as an example. The art collection of pharmaceutical entrepreneur Albert C. Barnes was moved from a private house to a museum in 2012 when the maintenance costs became too expensive. Against the will of the benefactor. This step was preceded by a long legal dispute. The question of whether to sell paintings to finance renovation was also raised, according to Bezzola. „In the end, art prevailed.“

The board of trustees will soon announce which works they plan to auction. The museum director, Markus Stegmann, still holds a glimmer of hope: „Perhaps the buyer will later return the works to us as a long-term loan.“ However, Tobia Bezzola does not believe in a wealthy benefactor. „The works will ultimately end up in a chalet in Gstaad or a high-rise in Dubai.“