Up to €160m valuation for ‘Essl’ collection

Financially troubled art collector Karlheinz Essl is one step closer to the forced sale of his modern art collection, with the completion this week of an independent valuation by Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses.

Up to €160m valuation for 'Essl' collection
Alex Katz is an American artist featured in the Essl collection. Photo: APA

The estimates from the auction houses, coordinated through the local Dorotheum auction house, place the value of the collection at between €140 and €160 million, for a collection of modern art that has for the past 15 years drawn thousands of tourists to Klosterneuburg.

As the founder and owner of the heavily-indebted Baumaxx chain of home improvement stores, which have in the past 37 years grown to 158 stores in nine countries, Essl was an eclectic and enthusiastic modern art collector.

His collection was more than just a private hobby, as he engaged in curious schemes that involved running an art collector's fund, where he would encourage other collectors to invest in art, including an offer to buy back art at 150% of the value after 10 years.

With the downturn of business in the home improvement sector, Baumaxx now has debts that exceed €1 billion.  As part of moves to protect creditors, the Austrian credit protection association (KSV) has recommended the sale of the collection.

Agnes and Karlheinz Essl / Frank Garzarolli © Sammlung Essl Privatstiftung

Earlier this year, Essl tried to sell his collection for €250m to the state of Austria, in order to save 4000 jobs of his staff.  When the sale was rejected, Essl withdrew the offer.

With more than 1700 works, the collection is considered something of a mixed bag of contemporary artists, with only a few of the works appreciating significantly in value, and many declining.

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London Tube gets covered-up versions of Schiele nudes after it deems the originals too racy

As the art world plans to celebrate the centenary of Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele's death, some of his nudes have been dubbed too racy to show in their full glory, not least in the London underground.

London Tube gets covered-up versions of Schiele nudes after it deems the originals too racy
Photo: Christian Lendl/Vienna Tourist Board/AFP
Austrian museums will next year host a series of exhibitions and events to mark the centenary of his passing but time has apparently not dimmed some of the prudish attitudes prevalent in his lifetime regarding his rawest works, Vienna Tourist Board director Norbert Kettner told AFP.
Two of his works — “Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait),” from 1910, and his 1914 work “Girl With Orange Stockings,” appear with their genitals covered over after Transport for London found the uncensored originals beyond the pale.
Advertising hoardings in Germany have similarly covered the offending parts, even though the works were deliberately selected as “we wanted to raise a discussion and the theme of nudity seemed pertinent,” Kettner told AFP.
“The campaign was ready but when we came up with the first visuals we had several reactions of 'that won't do; regulations won't allow us to show genitalia,'” he explained after the London Tube and a German airport both complained.
“We had the green light for a very large format and, the day before they went up, agreement was withdrawn as an ethics committee felt (full nude versions) wouldn't be acceptable for an airport public” or patrons of London's underground trains.
The Viennese tourist office quickly revamped the pictures, covering up the offending organs and adding on the blotted out section the slogan, “SORRY, 100 years old but still too daring today.”
They have also added the hashtag #ToArtItsFreedom in London – a play on the “To every age its art. To every art its freedom” inscribed on the entrance of the Vienna Secession building housing the union of Austrian artists movement.
Kettner revealed that a Viennese display did not share the artistic-sexual qualms of the British or the Germans and had approved a “non-censored” version.
The prolific Schiele, born in 1890 and who died of Spanish flu aged 28, was not always popular in his homeland where some, notably in conservative circles, took a dim view of his vision of tortured eroticism.
Nonetheless, a retrospective of his work will see a number of exhibitions highlight his talents as well as those of his first mentor and Secession co-founder Gustav Klimt.