German gallery trys to block sale of works by Joseph Beuys

Director says moving the pieces, installed by the artist, would be a “catastrophe”

NEW YORK. Negotiations between the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Museum in Krefeld, Germany, and art collector Helga Lauffs continue as the museum tries to stop five Joseph Beuys sculptures from being sold. The works were installed in the museum by the artist (who was born in Krefeld) in two specially built rooms.

The late industrialist Walther Lauffs and his wife Helga assembled a collection of 500 works by artists such as Richard Deacon, Robert Indiana and On Kawara, beginning in the 1960s. They placed all of these in the Krefeld museum on long term loan, with about 50 works on show at any one time. At the start of 2008, Mrs Lauffs ended the agreement, and last month it was announced that the collection would be sold. Some 155 works were bought by dealers David Zwirner and Iwan Wirth, while another group valued at $76m is being sold at Sotheby’s in New York this month and in London later this year.

According to Dr Michael Loschelder, Mrs Lauffs’s lawyer, she is selling the collection because the works were not being stored correctly, but Krefeld museum director Martin Hentschel says instead that the sale is because “she is in her 80s and has six daughters.”

Although most of the works have already been sold or consigned, Dr Hentschel is attempting to keep the Beuys installations. “Beuys built two rooms in the museum installing two pieces from our collection and five from the Lauffs collection as a group. Dividing these works would be a catastrophe,” he says.

Eva Beuys, the artist’s widow, has expressed her desire to see the sculptures remain in Krefeld, says Dr Hentschel. The institution is holding a symposium on 17 May where six Beuys experts will speak about the integrity of the pieces in question.

Dr Hentschel says he is not optimistic that Mrs Lauffs will donate the works: “We are upset that after all of these years, there has been no gift to the museum. We’ve paid for restoration, storage, insurance, catalogues and we never received any gifts from the Lauffs.” Mrs Lauffs was not available to comment.

Charmaine Picard

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