Francesca von Habsburg’s collection goes on long-term loan to Iceland

Decision made after rejection by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid

Bettina von Hase


Art collector Fran­cesca von Habsburg, the chairwoman of the Vienna-based foundation Thyssen-Borne­misza Art Con­temporary (T-B A21), has linked up with the Dieter Roth Estate and the Living Art Museum of Iceland (Nylo) to create a new partnership in Reykjavik. Ms von Habsburg’s contemporary art collection of over 450 works will go on loan for ten years as part of the collaboration, which will pool resources and invite a number of creative industries to share space and involvement in projects.

The partnership has already worked together for several years on projects in Iceland and elsewhere, and aims to create a “new model” of collaboration between commercial and non-profit figures in the art world. Part museum, part art production space, the project is still to finalise funding and structure, but will be overseen by the Living Art Museum and given space in an 8,000 sq. m former coffee warehouse and factory, leased from the Kaupping Bank of Iceland.

Ms von Habsburg said she is committed to Iceland’s culture, particularly during the economic downturn. “The art community [in Iceland] wants to be part of the solution; it never was part of the problem, and I stand firmly by them,” she said. At a recent seminar entitled “The Fun Palace”, held during an auction of 30 of T-B A21’s works at London’s Phillips de Pury on 12 and 13 February to raise money for the venture, artist Gabriela Fridriksdottir describ­ed Ms von Habsburg as a catalyst: “She meets people, likes them, and knows how to collaborate from the heart.” The sale of works including Robert Longo’s Typhoon Reversed, 2000, raised a total of £590,500 towards the project.

Ms von Habsburg’s decision means, however, that her collection will not go to the Madrid museum of her late father’s (Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza) classical and modern art collection, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which has been added to and overseen by her step-mother, Baroness (Tita) Thyssen-Bornemisza. “At first it made sense to offer my collection to Madrid,” Ms von Habsburg said, “but there was tremendous resistance from the board to open its doors to contemporary art.” The museum turned down the offer in December.

“I respect the board’s decision,” she said. She ac­know­ledged the board may have had legitimate difficulties in considering the inclusion of contemporary art in the collection. “Museums often make contemporary exhibitions in a more traditional context that are not really thought through. In terms of installation, rooms, architecture, curating, contemporary art works are profoundly different to classical and modern art,” she added.

The new venture will “open up a platform to show important contemporary works—we don’t have that in Iceland,” said Nina Magnúsdóttir, Director of the Living Art Museum.