International News Digest

OCTOBER 21

Construction costs for the central building of Berlin’s Museum Island have risen by a whopping $40 million to $135 million, reports Gabriela Walde in Die Welt. Walde says that much of the costs come from the island’s unsuitability as a foundation, noting that the site of the James Simon Gallery—the David Chipperfield-designed edifice being constructed in the middle of the island—is riddled with underground vortexes and groundwater six or seven feet beneath the topsoil. For Sabine Bangert, cultural policy spokeswoman of the Green Berlin Group of House of Representatives, news of the increasing costs amounted to the last straw: “I suppose there was no thorough construction-cost planning,” she said. Officials now expect the building to be completed in 2017.

La Libre sat down with Michel Draguet, director of Brussel’s Museum of Fine Arts, to discuss his campaign for an umbrella arts organization that would merge a number of the city’s institutions and collections—including the Musee des Beaux Arts and its affiliates. In the interview, Draguet defends his vision for a cultural hub in Belgium, saying he was “absolutely convinced of its necessity.” He notes that among the federal art institutions, there are four directors. According to Draguet, forming a conglomerate organization could not only combine these costly positions, but could even yield extra money to hire a much-needed lawyer, marketing manager, and development officer. Asked about critics’ warnings that his plan would yield a dictatorial “superdirector,” Draguet responded: “The specter of authoritarian drift makes me smile.” He noted, too, that whoever became the director of this hypothetical mega-institution would still have comparatively less power in the art world than Jean-Luc Martinez, who’s recently just been appointed to the Louvre.

Speaking of cultural hubs in the making, Le Parisien reported that the development of Île Seguin, on the outskirts of Paris, has raised the ire of two environmental groups. The Jean Nouvel–designed complex—which will comprise exhibition spaces, artists’ studios, and workspaces—is now being opposed by the Boulogne Environment and Boulogne-Billancourt Environmental Action associations. “We wrote to the mayor to file an appeal against the project on September 23,” says Jean-Louis Tourlière, the president of Boulogne Environment group. The environmental groups assert that the plans do not meet building codes. And even if they did, the groups note, there’s still another concern: the sale of the area of land upstream from the Nouvel building to a Swiss corporation, Natural Le Coultre, an art-shipment and storage business.

Austria’s facing a new kind of restitution claim with respect to Nazi-looted art. Patricia Cohen reported in the New York Times that scions of Erich Lederer, an Austrian Jewish art collector who owned the Beethoven Frieze, filed a claim on Tuesday asserting ownership of the work. What makes the claim unusual is that the Austrian government did in fact formally return Klimt’s work to Lederer after the war, but with one caveat: Lederer would receive export licenses for his other artworks only if he sold the frieze to the state at a rock-bottom price. In a 1972 letter, Lederer wrote “[Officials are] trying to force me to my knees.” Under financial pressure, he finally caved and sold the piece for $750,000, though Christie’s appraised it at twice the amount. In 2009, the Austrian government amended its restitution law, which prompted the Lederer family to file its petition. “The frieze is the best example to see if the law is working,” said Marc Weber, the Lederer family’s lawyer.