Amendment to the Art Restitution Law Being Reviewed

Austrian Press Agency (07/01/08)

Amendment to the Art Restitution Law Being Reviewed

Deadline ends September 1 – The advisory board’s term of office is extended to three years; the Law will be expanded to incorporate a broader spectrum

Vienna – An amendment to the Art Restitution Law is being reviewed. In the future not only art objects but also “other moveable objects of cultural value” can be returned by the Federation. Furthermore, in the future the Law should include not only inventory objects from Federal museums or from Federal collections of moveable property but also “other Federal assets.” According to a press release on Tuesday, the term of office for members of the Advisory Board for Restitution should be extended to three years. Likewise, also included will be objects found outside of Austria as well as those seized before 1938 by the NS regime.

The deadline for the amendment to be reviewed is set for September 1. According to the announcement made by Minister of Culture Claudia Schmied, the amendment was originally to be concluded before the summer. The suggested changes to be worked out “in close cooperation with Clemens Jabloner and in negotiation with experts from the Ministry of Finance” should articulate more precisely and concretely the “legal basis for restitution of questionable objects possessed by the Federal Republic.”

According to the press release, individual provisions of the Art Restitution Act adopted in 1998 are defined too narrowly to meet the standards for complete restitution of questionable art objects as well as other moveable cultural objects in possession of the Federation.” Now, among other things, not only the tasks of the Commission on Provenance Research should be specified but also the Advisory Council’s independence should be strengthened and ensured by extending their term of office.

Another point which is often disputed should be clarified: In the past restituted art objects of those formerly persecuted by the NS and sold to the Federation under pressure because of their being prohibited for export, were not included. Now all those objects returned to the owners after NS rule, which again were sold back to the Federation out of pressure, can be restituted. The reason being is that toward the end of the war many returned objects could not be brought out of the country by their legal owners since these objects were prohibited from being exported; they, therefore, went again back to the Federal State of Austria in exchange for the right to export other artworks. Should these objects now be restituted according to the amendment of the Art Restitution Law, then, received payments of money (or other equivalent) would have to be taken into account.

This amendment does not address the question whether and to what extent the Leopold Collection will be subject to the Art Restitution Act, as the Ministry explained when asked by the Austrian Press Agency. These are issues Schmied has been keeping separate from one another.